India’s Farmer Protests and The Women at The Forefront

Thousands of protesters encircling the capital of India, New Delhi. Police brutality. Farmers bracing cold weather. Little media coverage. This is the state of India’s farmer protests which took hold at the end of 2020 in response to three laws.

Farmers represent about 60 % of India’s entire workforce, and they rely on agriculture to make a living. Given this mass movement of farmers, why has there been little to no coverage on the protests?

One reason may be that the three laws that were established can be difficult to understand and are part of an immense history that has undermined the livelihood of India’s farmers for years. Here is a brief overview of the three laws and how they impact farmers:

Currently, farmers bring their produce to wholesale markets, otherwise known as “Mandis”, where they can sell their products through auctions. Market prices are influenced by something called the “minimum support price (MSP)”, which is the amount at which the government buys the produce. Markets usually inherit that price which becomes a benchmark for any sales that occur outside of the “mandis”.

While the system differs from state to state, the MSP is influential in ensuring that farmers at least get a certain price for rice, cotton, wheat, etc. These products are either stored by the buyers or sold directly to stores. Government regulation assures farmers they won’t be completely exploited by buyers.

The three laws will essentially slowly remove the wholesale markets which act as intermediaries. Instead, there will be free choice among farmers to engage directly with large corporations outside of the market. Buyers will stop coming to these markets since they can instead go straight to the farmers to drive down pricing to their own benefit. Private entities will dominate the agricultural industry with no benchmark serving as the minimum support price.

This deregulation of the system will allow for the exploitation of thousands of farmers who are already in immense amounts of debt. The laws also ensure that any business deals occurring between farmers and private entities will not include any form of oversight from outside forces, giving farmers no way to fight back on unfair pricing.

Many of the protesters in India are women, who have spent their lives farming the land, tending to their families, and providing for the country at large. According to Oxfam India- an organization dedicated to combating discrimination- 80% of women in the labor workforce are employed in the agricultural sector.

Female farmers are the life of the protests, cooking meals and singing songs to keep spirits alive. Their tending duties have continued despite them leaving their farmlands as they cultivate India’s land for the next generation by fighting against laws that will eradicate their children’s futures.

For the past few months, New Delhi has seen men, women and children brave the cold and risk COVID-19 infections to ensure their livelihood. The food they work hard to provide isn’t just for India but serves those in the United States as well. In 2019, India exported 2.6 billion dollars worth of produce to the United States. When we eat food from the comfort of our homes, there are thousands of farmers camping out in the cold protesting for their right to continue providing for us.

In the world’s biggest democracy, they are facing police brutality. We must support these farmers in their civil disobedience and draw attention to these mass movements. As the farmers in India chant “Inquilab Zindabad” (long live the revolution), they know that as long as their fists are in their air and their voices are raised, they are making history for every single farmer who has broken their back serving their country.

Follow @sikhexpo, @trolley_times_official and @kisaanrally on Instagram for excellent coverage of the farmer protests.