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The plight of Indian farmers

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“If the farmer is poor then so is the whole country” – Polish proverb

By Hamid Khan Wazir

Farming is among the earliest of civilized man’s occupations, and it has been the main economic basis of every civilization down to fairly recent times. Among ancient peoples, the landowner was regarded, along with the warrior, as the most respected and honored of men.

However, despite being the ancient and most civilized profession, farmers started losing their importance worldwide as they were deprived of a due share of their hard work. Subsequently, farmers revolted in various countries against the then governments’ anti-farmer policies due to which different countries started realizing the importance of the farming profession and took numerous initiatives to modernize the farming and facilitate the farmers. Like some other countries, the incumbent Imran Khan-led government of Pakistan also paid due attention to the farmers and started taking numerous measures to address their reservations, besides providing them incentives. Contrary to the neighboring country Indian, where tens of thousands of farmers have been living in tents at sprawling camps pitched on highways outside the capital New Delhi since November-last demanding repeal of the controversial and anti-farmer legislation passed by the Narendra Modi-led government.

Prime Minister Imran Khan personally held a meeting with the farmers at the PM house to discuss their reservations and issues, which is unprecedented. During the meeting, the Premier held out an assurance that Pakistani farmers will be protected from the exploitation of cartels and mafias because the agriculture sector is one of the major contributors to economic growth.

Moreover, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government also arranged a farmers’ convention in Islamabad, which was addressed by Prime Minister Imran Khan to make them realize that the incumbent government is giving immense importance to the sector and to remove their sense of deprivation.

However, contrary to this, the situation in Indian under the Narendra Modi-led government speaks otherwise, as the continued brutal anti-farmer policies eventually forced the farmers to challenge the Modi regime. The Indian parliament passed the three contentious bills in September-last in a bid to create monopolies in the grain markets and trap farmers into contract farming arrangements with corporate buyers.

Irate and worried farmer groups see the legislation as unfair and exploitative.  More than 85% of Indian farmers have small holdings, less than two hectares. This means it would be hard to engage and compete, with the large corporates.

The farm unions see these laws as the Indian government pandering to the corporates and fear the end of independent farmers. Modi called the reforms a “watershed moment” for Indian agriculture while opposition parties have termed them “anti-farmer” and likened them to a “death warrant”.

Indian agriculture has been in a state of crisis for the past two decades or more. The most painful manifestation of this has been the rising rate of suicides among farmers across the country (28 per day in 2019), many of whom are indebted to informal sources such as relatives or usurious money lenders.

The farmers are fighting new farming laws because they say these laws will devastate their livelihoods. Nearly a dozen rounds of talks between the 30-odd farmer unions and the government have yielded no results. Emotions run high as Indian farmers have threatened to set a protest stage outside the Indian Parliament on July 22. So, the situation is going from bad to worse for the ruling junta, as the resolute farmers undeterred to end the history-long protest in India sans accepting their genuine demands.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has been continuously trying to suppress their voices by trying out each and every way out. They stooped so low to send goons to attack the protesting farmers but they stood united like a rock.

Farmers are of the view that they are protesting not just to save their future but to save the future of India. With negotiations between the government and the farmers’ unions at a standstill, the protests don’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

The government has faced criticism for how it has handled the protests, particularly the violent clashes between farmers, their supporters, and Delhi police during a tractor parade on Republic Day in January.

India is currently grappling with one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the world. More than 300,000 people have died from COVID-related causes so far.

Undeterred by the virus surge, farmers are continuing to call on Modi’s government to repeal three controversial agricultural reforms that they say will leave them at the mercy of corporations.

Their resilience has been remarkable. They have sat through the harsh winter when night temperatures in Delhi are as low as 1-2℃. They are now sitting in protest in the scorching heat, undeterred by a deadly second wave of COVID raging across India.

Despite the fact that more than 400 protesting farmers have died, mostly at the protest sites but they remain determined to continue their protest till repealing the anti-farmer laws.

The Modi-led government not only ignored all objections raised by the opposition parties but also held no meaningful discussions with the farm unions and other stakeholders to allay their concerns. At the start of the farmers’ movement, the Indian government took the issue lightly, as they misread the situation; however, now the situation is out of their control because they undeterred and resolute farmers don’t ready to budge an inch for their stated and principled position despite facing all sort brutalities at the hands of the Indian government.

The farmers have planned to shift their protest camp in front of the Indian parliament to further tighten the screw around Modi’s government neck. The situation for the Modi government became more challenging mainly because of the pro-farmers policies adopted by the Pakistani government under Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Indian farmers will be difficult to convince anything less than acceptance of their due demands to repeal the anti-famers laws.

The fast-changing scenario indicates that Modi has left with no option but to surrender before the just demands of the protesting farmers or else the situation could lead to a civil war in India because the protest could turn violent anytime as we have already seen some glimpses of it where BJP goons and the farmers came face to face.

Disclaimer:

The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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