India's Farmers Protest New Laws in Mass Movement

In June 2020, the Indian government announced a series of agricultural legislation that has since spurred hundreds of thousands of farmers into an uproar. From across the country, farmers traveled to India’s capital, New Delhi, setting up on roads and blocking major highways. The protests have attracted national and international attention in recent months after police met the protestors with water cannons and tear gas, but they have been going on since the laws were passed in September, and are not expected to stop anytime soon.

Farmers are protesting three agricultural bills which they believe will make them vulnerable to exploitation from major corporations. India’s previous agricultural system had dictated that farmers sell to traders only at local wholesale markets (or mandis) at a federally mandated price. The first bill repeals this rule, the second removes the federal framework for farmer-trader contracts, and the third eliminates storage restrictions for the trader, allowing traders to buy much higher quantities of goods.

Farmers across India warn that without regulations on sale prices or oversight on contracts, major corporations will be able to easily exploit farmers and pay them next to nothing for their goods. This adds to the worries of Indian farmers, who have long been demanding agricultural reforms as they struggle to get by. To them, these bills are the opposite of reform.

Despite this, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi insists that the changes in the agricultural system will allow farmers more freedom in their negotiations. Without government oversight, he argues, farmers will gain autonomy and be able to better control their own business. The government has argued firmly throughout the protests that the laws are in the farmers’ best interests, and have announced that they have no intention of backing down.

Unfortunately for the government, the farmers also refuse to back down. The protestors blocking the streets brought vehicles filled with food, some with rations for up to six months. In early December, Modi called a meeting with India’s agricultural leaders, but these negotiations were unsuccessful. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic raging across the country and the ever-intensifying weather, officials seem to be more willing to negotiate, granting small concessions on the issue of waste-burning and holding off on further changes.