So much has happened since my last post. From the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the GameStop Investment, the military coup of Myanmar, the 2nd Impeachment Trial and Republican Acquittal of Donald Trump, a catastrophic Artic Freeze of Texas, and other states, and the upcoming “no holding back, tell all” from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. But what I really want to focus on this month is on something that is struggling to maintain publicity and support despite its importance; The Farmer’s Protest/Strike in India.
The protests are centered around three new agricultural laws by the government. The laws will deregulate crop sales which will allow private buyers to dictate costs and supply and demand. The established federally regulated marketplace has been helpful to ensure that small farms survive, and it protects land from being bought by corporations. The farming sector in India accounts for 16% of the GDP for India. The government regulations that had been in place since the 1960s allowed for not only the growth of the farming section but the growth of the food surplus for the country. When the COVID19 pandemic started in March of 2020, India projected that there would be over 100 million tons of grain in the surplus to help see the country through a potential 18-month lockdown. The three new laws will allow private buyers, large corporations, and mega farms to buy large amounts of land, flood markets with single commodities, and force price ranges. The three laws were strong-armed in the government to be passed and it was aided by the COVID19 pandemic and the massive country wide shut down. In reviewing the laws and the process they went through, no farmer or farming company was consulted. All of this would then see in August 2020 the farmers take to the streets.
The protests originated in Northwest India in the regions of Haryana and Punjab. They marched to Delhi in November. The response was brutal. Farmers were met with tear gas, water cannons, military tanks, and unlawful imprisonments.
On December 1st, an 82-year-old woman named Bilkis was arrested. Bilkis has already been actively protested the Indian Government for the last 2 years over the horrendous Indian’s Citizenship Law. (This law is written to strip millions of Non-Hindus of their Indian citizenship as well as millions of Hindus who cannot prove 7 generations of Hindu lineage.)
Over 130,000 have taken to the streets, railways, and popular tourist sites to protest. Men, women, old and young, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, Christian are marching, raising their voices, and demanding the government to respond.
The response by the Indian Government has been all encompassing. Prime Minister Modi and the ruling government political party BJP has shut down access to the internet, shut down supply trains, and have even sent armed tanks to stop the growing protests. With the shutting down of the internet, it was up to the diasporic communities across the global to bring to light the plight of the farmers.
By early February, the world started to get more and more information about the Farmers’ Protest. Many Hindu Nationalists who support the BJP and the new laws have stated that the protests need to be met with wide range of what can only be described as state sponsored genocide. Social media saw a rise in those same groups calling for a repeat of the 1984 Sikh Massacre which is estimated to have seen over 17,000 deaths in the Punjab and Haryana regions. The memory of these events has carried over to the farmers and protestors. Simran Jeet Singh writes,
Understanding the state violence in Punjab during the 1980s helps us see the grievances that Punjabi farmers have with the central government. It also shows how the Indian state deploys and enacts violence against its own citizens, and, perhaps most crucially, anticipates what might happen in India today if the Indian government is not held accountable for its current undemocratic actions.https://time.com/5938041/india-farmer-protests-democracy/
As the protests continued, information started to attain global awareness. Canadian politician and leader of the NDP political group who is also a practicing Sikh, Jagmeet Singh, voiced his support of the farmers. On February 2nd, celebrity Rihanna tweeted “We aren’t we talking about this?” with a link to an article about the protests. Swedish Climate Change Activist Greta Thunberg posted her support and solidarity. South Asian celebrities Lilly Singh, Hasan Minhaj, and Jameela Jamil publicly thanked Rihanna in using her voice to bring more publicity to this important issue.
Poet Rupi Kaur posted on all her social media accounts more information and ways to support the farmers. She shared incredible photos of the events. Meena Harris, the current Vice President’s niece, posted about how the farmers’ protest is also a protest of the crumbling of democracy. The public support has been met with hostilities from the Indian government. Greta Thunberg and Rihanna have been put on Indian government watch lists. Nine journalists have been detained by the government for their reporting on the protests and speaking out against the laws and the BJP. And countless other on the ground protestors have been detained.
The farmers are still protesting, one-sixth of the world’s population is being denied internet, outside communication, and basic human rights freedoms. Simran Jeet Singh states why this is important not just for India, but for the world;
But this is not just India’s fight. In a world grappling with rising authoritarianism, propaganda, human rights abuses, and anti-democratic practices, quashing right-wing nationalism is in everyone’s best interest. Letting it go unchecked, especially in the world’s largest democracy, puts us all at risk.https://time.com/5938041/india-farmer-protests-democracy/
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is hunkering down during this pandemic and hopes that all who read this post are safe and well. She is the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. Her focus is divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She explores the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. During this pandemic, she has started to tackle reading the mounds of books that have piled up and is simultaneously reading Young Adult (YA) fantasy books and strenuous academic books.