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At a Distance: UCLA students, professor voice concerns about farmer protests in India

(Shari Wei/Daily Bruin)

By Alexa Cyr

Feb. 11, 2021 7:27 p.m.

Bruins come from all around the world, from Colombia to Bangladesh. Because of the pandemic, many international Bruins are currently residing in their home countries. In “At a Distance,” Daily Bruin writers will look at events around the world Bruins care about and give a student’s perspective on the topics.

Indian farmers are protesting against new legislation that has serious economic and religious consequences for the Punjabi people, a UCLA professor and Punjabi students said.

Indian farmers, especially farmers from Punjab, have been protesting against three new government agricultural/farming policies passed in September. The three laws deal with regulations for storage, price and production of crops and lessening government jurisdiction, which means farmers will have to negotiate with large corporate buyers on their own.

Though the government passed the three policies to create a freer agricultural market, the legislation will have grave effects on farmer incomes, said Vinay Lal, an Asian American studies and history professor.

Farming in India has traditionally been subsidized by the government, which has neglected the needs of its citizens for years, Lal said.

But now that there is less government involvement in the industry, farmers will have to negotiate with large corporations who they fear will exploit them and take their land, according to a statement by the Consulate General of India located in Chicago.

Jessica Singh, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student who is Punjabi, said the corporatization of farming affects the livelihoods of farmers as they will lack the bargaining power necessary to set a standard of living.

The Indian government passed the new farm bills so that the country could better handle the surplus of goods being produced, according to the consulate. The Indian government believes the legislation will eventually increase farmers’ incomes, the statement added.

However, farmers have marched to New Delhi, the capital of India, and have protested against these three pieces of legislation outside the capital since November to present the government with their concerns.

Farmers are participating in an ongoing sit-in protest which has lasted for more than six weeks now in New Delhi, according to the New York Times.

The Indian government, which is a known democracy, is facing backlash for attempting to suppress the farmers’ right to protest, Lal said.

The government has been using violent defense mechanisms to deter protesters like tear gas and water cannons. Lal said the Indian government also attempted to prevent the protesters’ entry into New Delhi.

He also said farmers are concerned that the minimum support price, a set price the government promises to pay for certain crops, will be eliminated. This minimum is a large contributor to farmers’ incomes, and without it, their pay is in the hands of private companies.

According to the Indian consulate, the minimum support price will not be affected. But the deregulation of farming in general has surfaced fears that the farmers will no longer have this monetary benefit, the consulate added.

Lal said farmers are not only concerned about subsidies, but also about bargaining and dealing with large businesses alone. By privatizing and corporatizing the farming industry, which has been almost entirely reliant on government intervention for several decades, the government is throwing farmers to the mercy of the free market economy, he said.

Recently, the Indian Supreme Court decided to temporarily suspend the implementation of these farm laws due to the unrest, according to the New York Times.

The court appointed a committee to help facilitate a deal between the farmers and the Indian government, according to the BBC. However, farmers refuse to accept the Indian government’s proposals until it agrees to repeal the laws fully, according to the BBC.

Jasmine Kaur, a recent UCLA graduate who is Punjabi, said she believes the government is aiming to reduce the spotlight on its actions rather than acting out of genuine receptiveness to the protests.

Though this issue has significant economic consequences for Punjabis, the Indian media has not covered a lot of the protests, she added.

Singh said the suppression of Punjabis stems from a history of religious conflict – the majority of the country practices Hinduism, while Punjabis predominantly practice Sikhism.

Kaur said the Indian government has led several movements, such as the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, to try and eradicate Sikh culture.

People need to be aware of what’s happening and spread the word and just do anything to make a difference, such as raising their voice or donating five dollars, Kaur said.

Singh said she is also urging people to speak out about this issue.

Lal said without knowledge of what is happening, younger Americans will be unfamiliar with the implications these laws have for a farming society. He added that young people are far removed from the life of farming, and it is hard for them to fully understand the implications of these protests.

Many people of Punjabi descent have expressed support for their relatives in India, Singh said.

Singh said she attended a Punjabi-Sikh protest in San Francisco in December to support Indian farmers. Around 10,000 vehicles formed a 20-mile caravan to support the farmers, according to the California Aggie.

The farmers recently held a tractor rally as a form of protest Jan. 26, and they are planning to continue their sit-in in New Delhi, according to The New York Times.

Watching your own people suffer can be devastating, Kaur said.

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Alexa Cyr
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