The World's Biggest Protest: #DelhiChalo
Over the weekend, hundreds and thousands of Indian farmers and their families have marched to Delhi and set up camps by the entrance to the city. The numbers are swelling as many more are joining them - all united in their determination to protest the new controversial agricultural laws laid by central government which will, without a doubt, destroy livelihoods. More than 300,000 of the farmers have come from the states of Panjab and Haryana by foot and in convoys of tractors.
The Haryana government, ruled by the BJP party, had earlier announced its decision to seal all state borders with Panjab and Delhi to prevent farmers from reaching the national capital for the protest. The government blocked four national highways entering Delhi and put up blockades.
Upon arrival, many farmers were stopped by barricades, huge cement blocks and barbed wire erected by police on major roads into the city. Police in riot gear have used tear gas and water cannons against the marching farmers. Shocking but not a surprise as we have seen such prevention methods by police and state in many protests.
Covid has added to the tensions and is being used as another way to justify protests from continuing. On 24 November, the Delhi Police tweeted ‘No gathering is permitted amid coronavirus. If protestors still come to Delhi, legal action will be initiated’ – further exasperating tensions and begs us to question where our democracy, rights to protest and civil rights lie under this global pandemic.
All this did little to deter the peaceful protesters (of whom many were elderly, women and children), who arrived in large numbers with enough ration stocks to sustain them for months, ready for a long stand-off with the government. Many had come in advance, pitched tents and prepared food for the langar (communal kitchen) that would have to be setup the next day for the farmers, whom they expected to arrive at the border area in large numbers.
The recently passed agricultural laws that have caused this will lead to the deregulation of crop pricing, including the removal of guaranteed minimum crop price, which farmers say will leave them at the mercy of big corporations. The government has argued that the laws are necessary reforms that give farmers more autonomy over the selling of their crops and will break big unfair monopolies.
The farmers are demanding the Centre to either withdraw all three legislations or guarantee them on Minimum Support Prices (MSP) on their crops by passing a new law framed after wider consultation with the stakeholders. The farmers are against the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
Farmer unions have tirelessly challenged any move by central government that are anti-farmer and pro-corporate interests for years however this new bill has sparked justified anger and fear as they directly threaten the future of farmers and their families. Farming is one of the biggest employers in India, with more than 40% of the population working in agriculture.
Panjab, often known as India’s breadbasket, makes up for about two-thirds of India's wheat production and one-third of its milk production alone. It comes as no surprise that the farming families in Panjab are furious. Many criticise Modi and feel these laws are being intentionally imposed to benefit the big capitalists.
Among the farmers who marched to the border was Ratam Mann Singh, 61, from Haryana (President of the Indian Farmers Association). He said, “I took part in this protest to the Delhi border because the central government has sold out the farmers with these new laws, which did not have any input from farmers. If they are passed, then the farmers’ rights will be finished. We are prepared to stay here and will protest for as long as it takes, even in the cold winter, we are ready for that. We, farmers of India have been betrayed”.
On Saturday, the union minister, Amit Shah, said the government was willing to deliberate on “every problem and demand” of the farmers. Talks have been scheduled for 3 December.
We, Restless Beings are deeply disturbed and angered by the way Punjabi Farmers are being treated. It is deplorable. Farmers are the strength and backbone of India and we stand in solidarity with Panjab and all the farmers and their families who are peacefully protesting the encroaching privatisation of Farmers Bill 2020.
The right to peacefully protest is fundamental and a constitutional right in any democracy, and India is the world’s largest. Farmers in India should be able to voice their opinions and protest without fear for their safety. We are shocked to see the governments use of tear gas, water cannons and blockades on farmers who are protesting mass privatization of the agricultural sector and unjust reform of farming laws. It is appalling and the farmers deserve respect for feeding the nation instead of being subjected to state brutality. It is vital that consultation with farmers takes place at all stages as any change made by central government which concerns them and their livelihoods can be detrimental without this.
The determination and resilience of the farmers is admirable, and we stand with Panjab!