Farm Laws, 2020: Decoding farmer’s protest

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The outrage

Kisan Mahapanchayat, a farmer’s organisation, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court for permission to perform a peaceful and non-violent ‘Satyagraha’ at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

They requested that the Central Government, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Commissioner of Delhi Police provide at least 200 farmers or Mahapanchayat protestors with space at Jantar Mantar for organising a “Satyagraha” and not prevent them from entering the Jantar Mantar.

The petition was scheduled for hearing before a Bench led by Justice AM Khanwilkar on October 1, 2021.

According to Kisan Mahapanchayat, denying permission to hold a peaceful, unarmed, and nonviolent Satyagraha at Jantar Mantar is a violation of the essential democratic rights expressed as fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution.

It said that the government’s decisions are “biased and arbitrary,” because permission to protest was granted to another farmer organisation, Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, but permission to organise a staggered Satyagrah was rejected.

The Kisan Mahapanchayat

It is a group of farmers and others of the agricultural sector that are opposing the three farm laws.

Further hearings

The petition was submitted at the same time as the Supreme Court was investigating farmers for blocking highways connecting Delhi to other states.

The Supreme Court granted the Centre, permission to file a formal application to make farmers union parties to the petition seeking the opening of a road blockage at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border.

The Supreme Court decided on August 23 that the Centre and Delhi’s neighbouring states should collaborate to alleviate traffic blockades along the national capital’s borders.

It had questioned the Centre as to why the administration was unable to find a solution to this situation. The court ruled that farmers had the right to protest, but only in authorised areas, and that the influx and outflow of traffic cannot be interrupted as a result of the protests.

Background

Farmers are opposing the passage of three laws: the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, all of which were passed back in 2020.

Protests began in Punjab in November of last year and expanded to Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and other regions of the country.

The protest

The Indian farmers’ protest of 2020–2021 is a continuing protest against three farm legislation approved by the Indian Parliament in September 2020. For the past few months, there has been a deadlock between the central government and the farmers.

Farmers, farmer unions, and their representatives have called for the Act to be repealed and have stated that they would not accept a compromise. Farmer leaders hailed the Supreme Court of India’s decision to delay the implementation of agricultural laws in January 2021, which is still in effect. Farmer representatives also voted against the government’s intention to postpone the Act for 18 months, beginning on January 21, 2021.

Eleven rounds of discussions were held between the central government and farmers represented by farm unions between 14 October 2020 and 22 January 2021; all were unsuccessful, with the government only agreeing to two of the farmer demands, pertaining to stubble burning and an electricity ordinance.

Many farmer groups have labelled the legislation, commonly known as the Farm Bills, as “anti-farmer laws,” and opposition legislators have stated that it will leave farmers to the “mercy of corporates.” Farmers have also advocated for the creation of a Minimum Support Pricing (MSP) law to prevent businesses from exercising price control. The administration, on the other hand, claims that the law will make it easier for farmers to sell directly to major customers and that the protests are based on misinformation.

Unions began staging local protests soon after the legislation were passed, mostly in Punjab. Following two months of protests, farmer unions, primarily from Punjab and Haryana, launched the Dili Chalo (transl. Let’s Go to Delhi) campaign, in which tens of thousands of agricultural union members marched to the nation’s capital. The Indian government directed police and law enforcement officers from several states to strike protestors with water cannons, batons, and tear gas in order to prevent farmer unions from approaching Haryana and subsequently Delhi. According to trade unions, countrywide mass strikes involving millions of people happened on November 26, 2020, in support of farmer unions. On November 30, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 farmers converged at various border crossings on their way to Delhi.

On January 26, India’s Republic Day, tens of thousands of farmers marched into Delhi in a farmer’s procession led by a massive convoy of tractors. The protestors diverted from the pre-approved paths set by the Delhi Police. At times, the tractor march devolved into a violent demonstration as angry farmers drove over barricades and battled with police. Later, protestors arrived at the Red Fort and raised farmer union banners and religious flags on the Red Fort’s rampart.

Farmer’s demands

There protest stood for multiple demands which had been enlisted below after findings from newspaper coverage and reports:

  • The laws and ordinances should not be implemented.
  • The functioning of mandis should be intact and remain in place.
  • They demanded waiving their loan.
  • The law should be implemented which guarantees 50% MSP and non-payment of the same should be a punishable crime.

The major focus of the farmers was on the continuance of the mandi system with strong implementation of the MSP scheme. This demand could be justified by the statistics which said that more than 90% of farmers have been out of the ambit of the MSP-based procurement system. Even MSP has stayed a highly emotive subject for farmer-based politics. The current estimates suggest that only 6% of farmers have access to the MSP-based procurement system. The MSP-based procurement system is that it is highly balanced.

Seeing the crucial role of the Mandi system and MSPs and their being the subject of brawl a brief historical development of the system has been decoded in relation to the farm laws.

Why is there such a surge in farmer unrest?

While some farmer unions have complained, the Indian government claims that certain unions have endorsed the agriculture law. By mid-December, the Supreme Court of India had received a flood of petitions asking for the removal of the protestors’ blockades around Delhi. Farmers have indicated that if they are told to back down, they will not listen. Their leaders have also said that postponing agriculture law implementation is not an option. As of March 21, 2021, there are around 40,000 devoted protestors sitting at Singhu and Tikri near the Delhi border, according to Haryana Police.

The fear that corporates will seize their property following the enactment of three agricultural regulations had created the groundwork for this movement in 2020. Despite the government’s constant assertion that the rules are for the benefit of the farming community, this sentiment has only increased over time.

The attempts of the BJP and JJP leaders to hold their activities became a rallying point for the agitator farmers, mobilising additional farmers. When the government chose to employ force, it was counter-productive. Farmers’ rage was fueled by any detention or arrest, as evidenced by the gherao of police stations.

The reaction to the lathi charge in Karnal and the large assembly in Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat indicate that the agricultural community is gaining momentum. In Karnal, agitators were able for the gherao of Mini Secretariat despite the presence of up to 3,400 security personnel, including paramilitary troops.

Meanwhile, the reaction to the Bharat Bandh demand has bolstered the spirit of the agitators. Acting president of Haryana BKU (Chaduni) Karam Singh Mathana described the Bandh as “historical,” saying, “I have been involved for the BKU for the last 28 years but have never seen such an effective Bandh in Haryana before it.” Subhash Gurjar, a farmer activist from Yamunanagar, asserts that “almost 70% of Haryana’s rural population has supported the movement in some form.” If the agitation persists, support will increase much more.”

What are farmers’ aspirations for this uprising?

The morale of the agitation farmers remains strong, despite the participation of a significant number of farmers. Furthermore, they were successful in keeping farmers from being arrested in connection with cases filed during the ongoing farmer agitation.

According to Jasbir Mamumajra, “there is a sense among the farmers that they are getting closer to their goal”. They believe that the government will eventually cave and these dark laws will be removed. Other segments of society, particularly labourers, workers, and employees, have begun to join our movement, fearing that they, too, would be targeted later or sooner. Our discontent has now evolved into a major movement.”

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