Opinion: Why are there demonstrations worldwide supporting the farmers' protest in India?

Dec 7 2020, 11:11 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Mo Dhaliwal, director of strategy at Skyrocket

In any city in Canada, the USA, UK, Australia — or any country that has a strong Punjabi or Indian population, you may have noticed a few car rallies or demonstrations undertaken in the city centre. Unless you stop to read the signs or speak to any of the protestors, it may not be immediately clear that what you’re witnessing is your local aspect of a global phenomenon.

In pockets of Indian diaspora worldwide, demonstrations are underway to protest a new law that will further undermine, disenfranchise and subjugate the farmers of India. These demonstrations have been in support of farmers and the 250 million citizens of India involved in the largest single protest in human history.

In Canada, every major party leader — Justin Trudeau, Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh — have spoken in support of India’s farmer protests echoing the hope for a peaceful and quick resolution. So far, India has been amassing troops as farmers march on the capital. Blockades have been set up, some highway roads were dug up to impair travel, and in many cases, water cannons were turned on the protestors — an intergenerational mix, from children to the elderly, directly comprised of the families being affected.

Meanwhile, with traffic jams in major cities outside of India and crowds protesting in front of Indian consulates, some have questioned why any disruption should take place here for an issue in another country on the other side of the world.

Most of this commentary can be recognized as thinly veiled xenophobia, while there also exists some general confusion as to why anyone here should care about this issue. For starters, of the millions of South Asians in North America, a significant proportion have immigrated from or are descended from India. There are family bonds and connection to the land and ancestral villages that stretches back generations.

Beyond the ties between population and history, there is also a moral imperative for us to be aware of what’s going on and how it affects the world. We watched the US elections closely because we know the outcome affects us all. Similarly, Punjab’s family farmers are taking the most vocal stand with the rest of India’s farmers and, indirectly, for small farmers everywhere.

Agribusiness is huge in India and, through globalization, massive corporate monoliths are wielding immense power across borders to affect the way food is grown and delivered worldwide. This has the potential for massive repercussions to not just India, but all of humanity. 

Much of India’s agricultural production is driven by small landholders, the deepest concentration of which are located in Punjab — a state that has long since been the breadbasket of India. Recently, new laws were introduced that would upend a centuries-old practice of agricultural trade in India.

Currently, farmers are able to grow their crops and sell to brokers in the market, known as arthia in Punjabi. The farmers are guaranteed a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their crops, to stabilize and support agricultural production. Further, farmers are able to trade with the arthia at the local level, quickly receiving payment for their crops and being able to negotiate and establish terms better suited to their needs.

However, this is all about to end. New farming laws introduced by the ruling BJP party are likely to remove the MSP, as well as the arthia — the middlemen — who currently act as the market makers in procuring crops and selling to buyers. The new bill is couched in language that speaks of efficiency and empowerment, removing the “middleman” as if to imply that farmers will somehow be able to capture more profits for themselves by selling directly to buyers.

The reality is that the only collective power India’s farmers have is through their arthia. With the middle layer in the market removed, what you have is a massive imbalance in power between buyer and seller. In our context, it would be the equivalent of growing a crop in one’s own back yard, then trying to dictate terms to Whole Foods on the sale of your tomatoes.

In this scenario, you would be entirely at the mercy of the massive corporate interest and, if your entire way of life depends on this, you’re left in an incredibly precarious position with no legal recourse.

This power imbalance in the new laws that have been enacted is being recognized as the first step towards large corporate interests driving down crop prices, forcing independent farmers off their land, and affecting wholesale corporatization of agriculture in India.

We live in a global economy and much of what you consume comes from somewhere else. So, if you see a protest happening in your city please know that these people aren’t arguing for some sectarian issues in a faraway land.

They are standing in solidarity to strengthen and support the farmers, the growers, the labourers on so many small farms in India and across the world who bring you the food you’re eating.

For anyone interested in supporting this movement, the best thing for us all to do is to ensure that we bring daylight to the plight of farmers in India and amplify their message of unity and justice. Please honk your support if you come across a caravan of protesters, or share content from #FarmersProtest or #FarmersProtestChallenge hashtags. Because the protests in India are a distributed grassroots movement centring in Delhi, there’s no single way to donate or directly support the people on the ground.

However, if the farmers of India have shown us anything, it’s that as long as their traditions and livelihoods are not being taken away from them, they can take care of themselves.

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