The massive revolution of Indian farmers

Indian farmers hold red flags. The hammer and sickle, a symbol of workers’ union, stand out in white. Some initials can also be read: ‘CITU’. “Workers and farmers united to oppose the government’s anti-farmer and anti-worker laws!”exclaims the farmer. “There is no minimum wage. And farmer suicides are increasing every day. As people get poorer, companies and the powerful get richer.“, phrase.

In September 2020, a spark was ignited that soon spread across the states of colossal India like wildfire, becoming what is now known as the largest protest in history with around 250 million protestersthe one known as farmers protest (Indian agricultural strike). Three years later, that flame is still burning in the form of mass demonstrations that continue to demand workers’ rights and demand a solution to the current Indian supremacist government.

On April 5, a huge protest took place in Delhi, the capital of India. According to CITU (Centro de Sindicatos Índios), the largest assembly of workers in the country and one of the organizing organizations, around 100,000 demonstrators from different states of the country participated. This concentration is just a continuation of the Agrarian Strike in India that not long ago meant a movement that forever changed Indian society, and which continues to raise its voice against privatization and the neoliberal measures of the current Government.

The other organizations summoned, in addition to the CITU, were AIKS (All India Farmers Union) and AIAWU (All India Agricultural Workers Union), whose initials can be read on the thousands of flags carried by the demonstrators. According to the CITU in an official statement: “Workers and peasants began to demand an end to the ongoing assault on their livelihoods and that policies be adopted that allow access to education, health and a dignified life for them and their children..”

Students and environmentalists support Indian farmers

Groups of students and ecologists also came out in support of the demonstration. The socialist-Marxist trade unions that called for the protest, assure that “the success of the peasant struggle has lasted a year” and that “they have achieved numerous recent victories against anti-popular policies”. But what happened in India to find itself in this situation today?

In September 2020, three farm laws were passed under the rule of the current Hindu extremist BJP (Indian People’s Party). This news provoked the rejection of millions of farmers and peasants, who represent approximately one 70% of the population India, according to the United Nations. The three farm laws that sparked the protests were hailed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a breakthrough that would improve the economic situation of farm workers. However, they were called by the unions as “anti-farmer laws”, which would leave them at the mercy of the will of large corporations, given their deregulation and neoliberal character.

Inequalities in the agricultural sector are not new. Around 1960, the newly independent India was trying to fight a great famine that ravaged the country. The government devoted great efforts to modernize agriculture with the help of the United States, this process was called the Green Revolution. In this context, India developed a system to guarantee fair prices that is still used today. They established reference prices for buying and selling crops between farmers and traders. While not a perfect system, it proposed some minimum standards. However, the Green Revolution, which began as a promise of progress, ended in catastrophe, meaning the deaths of thousands of people, even today.

Indian farmers, suicides, green revolution, family farming, loans, credits

Alarming suicide rates of Indian farmers

About 300,000 farmers killed themselves between 1995 and 2014, according to the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau). Data indicate that the incidence of farmer suicides has remained high in recent years. It was in the 1970s that rural workers began to end their lives en masse, to the dismay of their families.

As a result of the forced industrialization of the Green Revolution, millions of farmers could not afford the new machinery, pesticides and other means that the agricultural industry required to remain competitive in the marketplace. They then began taking loans from private landlords and banks which they later failed to repay.

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Indeed, data from the Indian Ministry of Statistics shows that currently more than 50% of farming households are indebted. For rural India reporter Palagummi Sainath, the correlation is clear: “Farmers killed each other in years when the harvest was excellent. And in the seasons where it failed. They took their lives in large numbers in very different years. (…) The monsoon —rainy season— has a very real impact on agriculture. But it is by no means the main reason for agricultural suicides. Debt problems, hypercommercialization, exploding resource costs, and severe price and volatility shocks come to the fore. Factors all driven largely by state policies”.

Three farm laws that changed the system

Decades of plenty served as fertile ground for the approval of three agricultural laws to trigger large mobilizations. Each of the laws deregulated a part of the system. The first created trading spaces outside regulated markets, which would do away with previous price regulation and allow large corporations to play on their own terms. Second, it created a framework for deals between traders and farmers without any oversight, leaving farmers at a disadvantage with few options to avoid bad deals. Furthermore, by removing regulation, they would leave farmers in the hands of big business or be forced out of the agricultural sector. Finally, the third law eliminated the crop storage limit previously established by the government to control prices. Unlimited storage would mean that producers with more material resources would wipe out small farmers.

The agrarian strike in India lasted between 2020 and 2021. The protests started in Punjab, a historically socialist area with large union membership. In that year of mobilization, 700 demonstrators died, and several committed suicide in protest, as in the case of a Sikh priest, who committed suicide in the middle of the protest. He left behind a handwritten suicide note, in which he wrote that he “could not bear the pain of the farmers”. International support was resounding, especially in the United States, where large demonstrations by the emigrant indigenous community took place. Finally, after a year of continuous protests, on November 19, 2021, Narendra Modi announced in a televised speech that he would repeal all three laws.

The Triumph of the Protests

After the triumph of the protests, the agroindustry continues to be severely punished and, according to the unions, there is an urgent need for reforms that protect workers’ rights. For this very reason, the unions, after being enormously strengthened, continue to claim claims related to the improvement of public services, minimum wage and retirement or regulation in the face of price increases. Currently, the average salary of a farmer is 18,000 rupees (€200) and they are asked to increase to 26,000 rupees (€300).

Furthermore, they now have broad support from public opinion and from authority figures such as Indian Marxist economist Prabhat Patnaik, who, regarding the April 5 protest, made the following statements to The Hindu newspaper: “This protest is about unite the working classes to defend their material interests and avoid their impoverishment, imposed by the neoliberal policies of this neo-fascist government”, he declared, adding that the political consequences of such a demonstration would only occur over time.

Indian farmers call for change

The Indian farmer, holding a large red flag with a hammer and sickle, continues: “We ask for minimum wages, we ask to end the labor codes that this government wants to implement to turn workers into slaves. They will end the right to strike, they will end the right to organize. No minimum wage is paid to farmers”, he is visibly excited, but it is clear that he knows his speech by heart. “Now workers and farmers have come together on a single platform. And they are suing the Modi government: ‘Either you change your law and your policies, or we will change you’, this is the motto. Save the people, save the country, save the economy of this country, this is our demand.”

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