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Senior citizen farmers carry a protest in Punjab on Mar. 6, 2021.

Farmers’ protests continue in India: A timeline

In British Columbia, as Indo-Canadians hold rallies to express solidarity with protesting farmers in India, Simran Chhabra covers these protests from the frontlines of northern states of Punjab and Haryana.

By Simran Chhabra , in City , on April 16, 2021 Tags: , ,

Indian farmers continue to protest, demanding changes to three sweeping pieces of agriculture-related legislation passed last September by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Thousands of farmers have set up tent camps and held rallies outside of New Delhi. After 11 rounds of talks between government officials and farmers, the two sides do not seem any closer to a resolution. The Supreme Court of India has suspended the bills’ implementation through a stay order until further notice.

 

Protestors rally in Chandigarh on Jan. 21, 2021.

What are farmers protesting? 

The Modi government is proposing three specific bills that the nation’s farmers continue to protest against.

The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce bill allows farmers to bypass the traditionally regulated markets and sell their produce directly to companies, warehouses, storage units, and even consumers.

The Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services bill permits a farmer to enter into contract farming with a buyer for a specific crop at a particular price.

The Essential Commodities bill eliminates storage limits and allows a buyer to stock commodities without being vulnerable to penal action.

Why are the farmers protesting?

Farmers describe the bills as “exploitative and anti-farming” in nature. They believe the reforms will loosen the rules on how crops are produced, stored and sold.

The new farm bills allow the entry of big corporate players into the agricultural sector. Independent farmers believe that will dismantle the minimum-support price system, allow private traders to form cartels, and dictate prices, leaving them vulnerable to market forces.

Even though the government has promised to retain the minimum-support price system, the farmers demand a law guaranteeing that agricultural produce won’t be priced lower than a base level determined by the state.

What is happening? 

Since November, thousands of farmers have protested, leaving their land and setting up tent camps outside of New Delhi and elsewhere in the country.

A timeline of the protests

Nov. 26, 2020: Dilli Chalo (Let us go to Delhi March)

Demonstrators march towards Delhi calling the Central government to rescind the laws on Nov. 26, 2020.

By Dec. 3, 2020, an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 farmers took over one of Delhi’s busiest highways, NH44 Singhu Border. Protesters built semi-permanent camps at the Ghazipur and Tikri borders on each end.

Dec. 22, 2020: Indo-Canadians stand in solidarity with farmers

Protestors parade outside the Indian consulate in downtown Vancouver on Dec. 21, 2020.                                    Photo: Mandip Kharod

International attention began to grow in December with protests outside of India. In British Columbia, rallies took place in Surrey and downtown Vancouver. “Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He commented after evidence of physical force being used by the Indian police against protesting farmers emerged on social-media platforms.

Jan. 11, 2021: “Sorry, this isn’t a man’s protest,” say Indian women

Following the Supreme Court’s remarks, female protestors organize a march in Haryana on Jan. 12, 2021.

During a Supreme Court hearing, India’s chief justice expressed concerns about the presence of women and senior citizens at the Delhi border protests. “I want to persuade them to go back. Else the Supreme Court might issue an order for the same,” he said.

Almost half of India’s agricultural labour force is women, according to the National Council of Applied Economic Research. “The contribution of women in agriculture is incomparable, and these bills have an equal impact on them. It is disrespectful to question our agency,” said Charanjeet Kaur, a female advocate at the High Court of Punjab.

Jan. 26, 2021: World’s largest tractor rally wreaks havoc

Police fired tear gas shells during the Republic Day tractor rally on Jan. 26, 2021.
Photo: ANI

On Republic Day, nearly 5,000 farmers and 2,500 volunteers participated in the national tractor rally. Many left the pre-assigned parade route and drove towards the Indian parliament. One person died while hundreds of protestors and police were injured during the clashes.

Jan. 28 – Feb. 4, 2021: Stringent measures added to curb protests

Heavy police patrolling at Punjab protest sites on Jan. 29, 2021.

Following the Republic Day riots, the Delhi police temporarily cut off power and water supply, increased security, conducted mock drills, and dug roads at the protest sites to stop the farmers from advancing. Barbadian pop singer Rihanna and Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg’s tweets about the protest increased international intervention. The Indian government called the Twitter commentary “inaccurate and irresponsible.”

Present-day scenario:

A demonstration organized in Chandigarh in solidarity with the farmers on Feb. 5, 2021.

During his parliamentary address on Feb. 8, 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the protests, saying farmers should view the reforms as paving the pathway for extended market access, increased sustainability, and modernization. “Foreign direct investments are being replaced with destructive foreign ideologies, and Indians should not give in to them,” he said.

Six months later, farmers continue to push back, arguing against the legislation. According to the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, a coalition body of over 40 Indian farmers’ unions, there have been 300 deaths, including 255 from Punjab. They say the cause of deaths range from heart attacks and cold-weather conditions to injuries sustained during clashes with police.