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Indian Farmers’ Protest 2020-2021: History, Progress, Current State of Unions

The farmers’ unions were mainly focused on getting the three Farm Bills repealed

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INDIA: The largest democracy in the world, with a considerable majority of the population deriving its livelihood and sustenance from the agricultural sector, found itself in a great infrastructural upheaval in late 2020. 

The 2020–21 Indian farmers’ protest, now seen as one of the turning points in the history of Indian agriculture, was a widescale protest by farmers against three farm acts passed by the Indian government in September 2020.

The three farm acts, also known as “Farm Bills,” have been described by many farmer unions as “anti-farmer laws” as they threaten to sell out low-income and struggling farmers to the bigshot corporates, according to many politicians from the opposition. 

The farmers were also up in arms against the government, which was pressuring them to establish a minimum support price (MSP) bill that would ensure that the corporations would not have any control over the produce prices.

The protests were not received by the government in a fair light, and the central government accused the opposition politicians of riling up innocent farmers against the administration with fake news and misinformation, despite their repeated assurances that the laws would only make it convenient, effortless, and profitable for farmers to directly sell their produce to the big buyers. 

Moreover, farmer unions found other factors as weighing heavily on the Indian governance of the agricultural sector, citing realistic reports and national statistics of farmer suicides, low farmer incomes, laxity in technological advancement, and a lack of resources or welfare schemes. 

Despite India being a largely self-sufficient country when it comes to food grain production, hunger and nutrition remain some of the most important and serious issues, with India ranking as one of the worst countries in the world in food security parameters.

Following the introduction of the acts, the enraged farmers’ unions staged widespread protests and demonstrations across India, centred mostly in Punjab and in north India. 

After nearly two months of sit-in protests, the clans marched on Delhi, the nation’s capital, to make their voice heard in the parliament, prompting the Indian government to command law enforcement agencies to launch water cannons, batons, and tear gas grenades to prevent them from entering Haryana and Delhi.

A total of eleven meetings between the union representatives and the government took place between October 14, 2020, and January 22, 2021, but all turned out to be futile and mostly inconclusive.

Then, on January 26, 2021, on the celebration of India’s Republic Day, the farmers’ unions held a parade with a large convoy of tractors and drove into Delhi, planting farmer union flags and religious flags across the city while evading the “lathi” charges and blockades by the Delhi police.

Finally, the months of anxiety, protests, and angry demonstrations along the border came to a penultimate end on November 19, 2021, when the union government decided to formally repeal the bills after much backlash. Both houses of parliament passed the Farm Laws Appeal Bill, 2021, on November 29.

However, many unions still continued to fight on, demanding MSPs and reminding the government of its aim of doubling farmer income by 2022, as the 2004 MS Swaminathan–headed National Commission on Farmers reports.

The farmers’ unions were mainly focused on getting the three Farm Bills repealed, so that it would ensure their businesses would not be affected by the capitalistic antics of major corporate organisations. 

The unions believe that the laws will open the sale and marketing of produce outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis for farmers, leading them to believe that the laws will eventually “lead to the deterioration and ultimately end the mandi system,” thus “leaving the farmers at the mercy of corporates.”

Here is a list mentioning a few of the prominent national farmers’ unions (that assembled under the umbrella of Samyukt Kisan Morcha and All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee) that took part in the revolutionary protests against the “anti-farmer bills”:

Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan, Sidhupur, Rajewal, Chaduni, Dakaunda)

1. Kisan Swaraj Sangathan

2. Jai Kisan Andolan

3. All India Kisan Sabha

4. Karnataka: Rajya Raitha Sangha

5. National Alliance for People’s Movements

6. Lok Sangharsh Morcha

7. All India Kisan Khet Majdoor Sangathan

8. Kissan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee

9. Rashtriya Kisan Majdoor Sangathan

Early in November this year, 31 unions in the state announced a combined farmers’ effort to march on November 26 toward Raj Bhavan in Chandigarh to mark the anniversary of the “Delhi Kisan Morcha” against the now-repealed three central farm laws.

The unions are set to put forward their demands before the Center and the state government. 

The demand will predominantly focus on the government’s pending promises, including MSP for all the crops and cancellation of any cases filed against farmers during last year’s demonstrations against the farm bills.

The farmers are also currently seeking justice for the deaths of four farmers and a journalist who were killed in the infamous Lakhimpur Kheri incident in the UP district last year on October 3, when Union Minister Ajay Mishra’s son, Ashish Mishra, allegedly ran over the deceased with his car when he was confronted with protesting farmers over the farm bill agitation. 

The minister has not yet been sacked by the central government, and the families of the dead have received no compensation, let alone an apology.

On Monday, Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Sidhupur) president Jagjit Singh Dallewal said he would continue his fast unto death till the Punjab government comes up with a resolution to the various demands of farmers. 

Doctors and other medical staff have been attending to Dallewal, who is currently low on sugar and has been fasting since Saturday. 

The ongoing farmer protests have been going on for the last few days, spearheading other similar agitations in Amritsar, Mansa, Patiala, Faridkot, and Bathinda to support demands. 

Dallewal has accused the Aam Aadmi Party of behaving the same way as the BJP did during its handling of the farmers’ protests during 2020–21.

“We are sitting here for resolution of our demands. If the government does not accept, then this fast will continue unto death and our protests will continue like this,” Dallewal told reporters in Faridkot.

Meanwhile, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann slammed the unions on Friday and said that frequent staging of physical demonstrations would not lead to any favourable decisions. 

Dallewal hit back, saying, “We were promised that sugarcane mills would start crushing from November 5, but it failed to do so. We were promised that Rs 2,500 per acre would be given for not burning stubble. We were again promised no action will be taken against farmers who burn stubble, but it failed on this front also.”

The demands include more compensation for land acquired by the government for the construction of national highways and for crop damage due to weather changes and pest attacks, which mainly led to farmers’ losses.

Also Read: Farmers Protest Against Centre, Demands MSP for Crops

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