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The Quad: Students, faculty discuss impact of repeal of Indian farm laws

Indian farmers have protested against three agricultural bills since November 2020. While the bills have been repealed, some UCLA students and staff said the movement is not yet over. (Creative Commons photo by Randeep Maddoke via Wikimedia Commons)

By Japji Singh

Dec. 2, 2021 5:12 p.m.

The start of December marks more than a year since “Delhi Chalo,” the rallying cry that mobilized thousands of farmers to protest in Delhi on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26, 2020.

According to the Indian Express, farmers from the agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana were protesting three farm laws passed by the Indian government in September 2020 that proposed an increase in the role of corporations in the agricultural sector of India.

According to CNN, President Ram Nath Kovind signed a bill repealing the three laws Wednesday.

Asian American studies and history professor Vinay Lal said the Indian government attempted to turn the agricultural sector of India into a business with the bills.

“What the farming bills would have done (is) it would actually have rapidly accelerated the rate at which Indian farming becomes corporatized,” Lal said.

Lal said that understanding the farmers’ protests requires examining the global economy of agriculture. He said that international development in farming and the consolidation of farms prevent small farmers from making a living from agriculture.

“It’s important to remember that this agricultural sector has been under stress for some decades,” Lal said. “The story goes back, much further back, in time.”

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, because of the mechanization of the international agricultural economy, larger farms are accounting for a larger proportion of the global crop production.

The corporatization of the agricultural sector in India threatens the livelihoods of small farmers who, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, make up 82% of the country’s farming population, an aspect which motivated the dissent of the farmers against the bills.

According to CNN, the introduction of these bills eradicated the promise of a minimum support price for these farmers.

“The problem here is that it isn’t a level playing field for many people,” Lal said. “This trend toward corporatization actually leads to greater inequality.”

Lal said an MSP guaranteed the purchase of farmers’ products and the assurance of a minimum profit.

“If you take this to a mandi, that is, a market, the state will buy a certain amount of grain from you, whatever that grain is,” Lal said. “(It) will pay you a certain set price for one quintal, … whatever the state of the market is.”

Lal added that when agriculture begins to corporatize, a large number of the smaller businesses, and by extension smaller farmers, will be driven out of business because they will no longer be able to compete with bigger farms that have more land and resources.

Second-year biology student Sukhkiran Kaur said she first heard of the protests in mid-November 2020, when the farmers planned to march to Delhi to voice their opposition to the farm bills.

“The Punjab farmers represent all farmers of India,” Kaur said. “They’ve been feeding the nation for decades. … The main problem is the fact that they’re not going to have their own demeanor anymore.”

According to the Indian newspaper The Hindu, the farmers protested the fact that the government had passed the bills without any real negotiations with the farmers.

“I think that the fact that these bills were put forward at the time of the pandemic, when the state essentially is acting under a state of emergency, indicated very clearly that the government was not acting in good faith,” Lal said.

Gyanam Mahajan, an Asian languages and cultures professor and faculty co-director of the organization Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms, said the repressive measures of the government drew her attention to the protests. She added that the immediate reaction of the Indian government and police toward protesters was extremely violent, involving water cannons and tear gas.

“The media had started the simultaneous vilification and at that point, kind of out of the blue. It’s like, ‘What?'” Mahajan said.Why is the media suddenly calling these poor people all kinds of names, belittling them, marginalizing them?”

Lal said the response of the Indian government to the protests was marked by the way they attempted to suppress the farmers’ movement.

“The Indian state’s response was to dig up the roads, the main roads, to try to prevent tractors from coming in. And they put spikes in the middle of the road … and barbed wire. I mean, essentially … saying, ‘We’re going to shut you out,’” Lal said.

Kaur said her community in California demonstrated support for the farmers through social mobilization.

We had a few (protests) in LA, and there’s been a lot in the Bay Area. And definitely just using social media to spread information,” Kaur said.

While the repeal of the farm bills is now official, Mahajan said that we should be cautious of such a repeal.

“These laws may be repealed, but the farmers have been fighting for … real reforms to take place,” Mahajan said.

Lal added that real agricultural reforms require serious deliberations and should involve the voices of the farmers themselves.

“Farmers are doing something which is the backbone of society. They put food on the table,” Lal said. “Bills of this kind need to be discussed over a period of months.”

According to Al Jazeera, the repeal of these farm bills signifies the first step toward a victory for the farmers and their many months of continuous protests outside the borders of Delhi.

“It is also a moment which illustrates the possibility of the nonviolent protest in a disciplined manner and what it can achieve,” Lal said.

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