India Farmers Protest (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Indian government is paving the way for corporations to take over the lands of farmers in India. My future feels black. I'm frightened that I won’t be able to do farming on my own ancestral land, because the corporations will force me to sell it to them. We are all fighting for our survival.

Half a dozen of my family members are out there protesting. It's deeply affecting Gen Z, watching the illegal ways the people we care about being treated by the government.

I have lost my faith in democracy, or that its possible to live in a free and fair way. It has shattered all my innocence, hopes and aspirations in a very wild way. It's nearly impossible for me to study or even focus on my textbook, because when I open it, nothing else comes to mind but glimpses of those shaking hands, and worried eyes fighting for basic rights they've worked hard for their whole lives.

All that remains is this very livelihood being snatched away.

Farmers blocked a rail line in Punjab, one of India’s biggest grain-producing states © Narinder Nanu/AFP via Getty

When were these bills passed?

Three bills were passed by a voice vote (the quickest method of voting in the Indian parliament), which marked the beginning of this issue.

With nationwide lockdown closing down schools and colleges, the Indian government had a session passing these bills. When schools re-open and 250 million protestors are asking to discuss these laws properly, they are not having a winter session. This is unusual, because every year the Indian parliament ends with a three week long winter session, typically held from November to December.

Policies relating to agriculture are in the 'State' list. That means the government and that particular state is supposed to make laws relating to agriculture (not the central government, which is what had happened in this case).

However, they are shielding their decision by claiming that food comes in the Union list, and the central government is supposed to make laws regarding food. This is one example of how the Indian government hides their true intentions by making their actions seem legitimate.

Recently, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government released a poster saying that these laws are in the favour of the farmers. it even had a picture of a farmer, Harpreet Singh, who has actually been sitting among the protesting farmers on the Singhu border (at Delhi - India's capital) since the first week of December.

How did things used to be?

The lands of farmers in India tend to be small, and marginal farmers don’t have adequate facilities to store their crop properly and sell it as soon as they harvest it.

Let's take an example of Punjab, an Indian state majorly affected by this bill.

The farmers are supposed to sell their produce in Agriculture Market Committee Ground APMC (or "Mandis" as we call it). There, the crops are sold in an auction with the Artiyaas, who buy it from the farmers.

The Artiyaas are government agents who get a 2% commission by acting as a middle man between the farmers and the government.

There is a Minimum Support Price MSP (valid only in Mandis), which is the price at which the bidding starts. Its purpose is to safeguard the rights of farmers, ensuring they can return a definite price on their crops.

In turn, the Punjabi farmers pay 8.5% tax, because they can only sell their crops and get an MSP.

So what's wrong with the new bills?

The bills are so well structured that an unassuming eye detects no flaw or error in them. In fact, you might even think they benefit the farmers. Yet the situation is quite the opposite.

We'll break them down one by one.

1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020:

This bill allows the farmers to sell their produce outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) regulated markets.

"What's the problem with that?", you might be thinking.

Surely, this would mean the farmers have more choice on who they want to sell to. They no longer have to pay taxes, which is beneficial for agricultural tech start-ups, or practically anyone who wishes to connect with the farmers.

But what this actually means, is that the Mandis operated under the APMC law will be abolished due to this Act.

Once these Mandis are shut down, the farmers will be forced to sell the crop to corporate companies at a lesser price.

No one will buy the farmers' produce at the minimum support price, which guarantees the safety net or insurance for farmers when they sell particular crops.

This means many farmers are at risk at receiving nothing for their crop, making their whole livelihoods redundant.

2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020:

This bill makes provisions for the setting up of a framework for contract farming.

You might be thinking:

  • The farmer and a buyer can strike a deal before the production happens.
  • They can grow the crop they are mutually interested in.
  • Everything will be pre-planned, with no last minute hassle.

What this actually means:

  • Farmers will be exposed to the risk of fraud due to the entry of people without license or registration.
  • Ultimately, they'll have to grow what the buyer asks which will be commercial crops rather than subsistence crops usually grown by the farmers.
  • The farmers won't be able to use techniques which have long term benefits, like manure, and would have to use techniques with short term benefits. This may degrade the overall quality of their land, like pesticides and fertilizers and contribute largely to pollution.

3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020:

Finally, this bill deregulates the production, storage, movement and sale of several major food items, including cereals, pulses, edible oils, and onions.

You might be thinking:

  • There will be a better storage system.
  • Crops wont be wasted, there will be efficient techniques to protect them from all kinds of damage.

What this actually means:

  • The corporates will hoard the supplies.
  • The wheat procured by the farmers is sold to the consumers already at ten fold the price.
  • Meaning they will be at a disadvantage when going up against corporate entities, with their rights under threat.

Farmers belonging to Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Smiti being dispersed by the police using water cannon. | Photo Credit: Akhilesh Kumar

How are the government responding?

The farmers are protesting against all three laws by the centre. Instead of taking this bill back, or engaging in meaningful discussions, the farmers are being stopped from protesting peacefully by firing water cannons on them.

Such kind of injustice on farmers is not fair. Peaceful protest is a constitutional right.

At the Singhu border, the Delhi Police stationed trucks filled with sand to stop movement of tractors driven by farmers. This is the first time that the city police has stationed trucks filled with sand at border points. The Delhi police is even granted the permission to set up temporary prisions. They have to go through tear gas.

To date, there have been 32 lives sacrificed including 2 suicides because they could not bear the government's unfair treatment, with which their fraternity is subjected to.

Why is the national media not taking notice?

If we believe media is the fourth pillar of democracy, we are practically standing on a tripod. It’s one of the world's largest protests, and yet its not fairly covered by the national and international media.

The media is mostly showing the ruling party's side that the farmers are smashing the barricades, littering the streets of Delhi.

But the ongoing situation is quite the opposite, as the farmers are cleaning the streets thoroughly. As it turns out, they were throwing away the barricade to make way for an ambulance.

Recently, they were criticizing the farmers for eating pizza at the protest, and their kids speaking English as well as Punjabi very fluently.

They consumed pizza is in the news, but what never came in the news is that 10200 consumed poison and ended their lives. They worked in the fields so hard to afford private education for their children, because the government failed to provide it themselves.

The farmers are being failed on multiple levels. Governments are built on the trust of the people, but this is an example of the government failing them. A security personnel is someone we should be able to trust, but they too failed them by using water cannons and tear gas.

In such a case, the media is often the last and only resort. But haven't just failed them, but also stabbed them in the back. While they say that truth is the first casualty of war or conflict, trust is also a major casualty.

So now when the reporters come at the border, they are greeted with slogans of, "Godi media, go back.”

“Godi media” refers to the media organizations which are “lapdogs” of the Narendra Modi government. What they are doing is gathering a few old and uneducated people, and grill them on the technicalities of a bill to manipulate the facts.

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

Despite all this, the farmers are in Chadhdi Kala (a belief in Sikhism to always be in high spirits). This poem I found, sums it all:

Away from home, still smiling,
Been weeks without family, still smiling,
Sleeping on roads I chilly winters, still smiling,
Serving meals to those who are there to beat them, still smiling,
Fighting for their most fundamental and basic rights in a free country, still smiling,
Been growing food for the entire nation and now fighting for their own, still smiling,
Every day and every moment is uncertain and unfolds with new updates, still smiling,
Lastly, they are in pain, but still smiling.

What are 'Langars'?

The Langars are the free community kitchens started by the Sikhs, not 'terrorists' as some of the media suggests. They are also not just feeding the farmers camped at the border.

They have also come as a boon to several underprivileged people in the vicinity of the blockade, as well as countless homeless people who otherwise would have struggled for even one square meal a day.

The Langars now treat them to regular meals and tea - served three times a day - with fruits, kheer and sweet rice as prasad (offering) and snacks.

Most of the beneficiaries of the farmers’ goodwill are scrap collectors, and the used paper plates and plastic items from the Langars also ensure them their daily livelihood, without having to go scouting for discarded items.

There have also been free distribution of winter wear, peanuts, dry fruits, milk, and protein shakes.

Now many people have even volunteered to tutor the children at the protests, even going so far to set up washing machines.

What is the Khalistani Movement?

The Khalistan movement is a Sikhseparatist movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing a sovereign state, called Khālistān ('Land of the Khalsa'), in the Punjab region. The proposed state would consist of land that currently forms Punjab, India and Punjab, Pakistan.

It was an armed secessionist struggle led by the Sikhs of Punjab, in northern India and the arms were its only flaw. It was a result of the suppressed anger, because the Indian central governments have always overlooked the needs of the minority communities, and divided them on the basis of religion so as to make a particular group their vote bank.

Needless to say, the conditions have worsened under Modi.

Digging deeper in Punjab, the Hindus constitute around 38% of the total voters. You can imagine what happens when thirty-three per cent of votes come out on one side. Ever since the Akali Dal (a popular party in Punjab) ended the alliance with the BJP, they started preparing a strategy to establish its hold within Punjab.

By giving a ‘Khalistani colour’ to this Kisan (farmer) movement, the BJP is trying to gain the sympathy of Hindu voters in Punjab.

I feel that the BJP neither has any prominent Sikh face to represent it, nor do they have anyone who can show a major one in upcoming elections.

Now somewhere, I think this is probably a golden opportunity for the BJP and those leaders to set their feet firmly in the state. Is the BJP trying to shine its Hindutva politics by giving a ‘Khalistani‘ angle to the farmers’ dharna?

In the protracted negotiations that preceded the partition of the Punjab in 1947, the idea of an independent Sikh state figured prominently. The Sikh population lacked numerical strength in relation to other residents of the Punjab, making this an unviable proposition.

But it has resurfaced in various forms since.

In the 1970s and ’80s, a violent secessionist movement to create Khalistan paralyzed the Punjab for a decade. It received support from the All India Sikh Students’ Federation, and was led most effectively by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale.

But some Sikhs oppose the Khalistani movement.

Sikkhism lays stress on ‘Sarbat da bhalla' (working towards the common good of all) and 'kar seva' (doing physical work for the common good). These two ideas are part of the Guru Granth Sahib spiritual ideology.

The Sikh farmers of Punjab were the first to grasp the danger when Parliament passed the three controversial bills in a great hurry, without a discussion or taking farmers’ unions into confidence.

The Sikh farmers are now part of a strong global community, with agrarian production knowledge as their backbone.

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