A nationwide farmers’ strike in India has begun amid growing tensions with the government over new farm rules.
Tuesday’s strike follows three unsettled talks between the two sides over what farmers say is against their goals and interests.
Another round of talks is expected on Wednesday.
The Opposition Party’s Stance
The party of Delhi’s Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal suspects he was detained in a house after visiting a border where farmers had gathered.
“No one is allowed to leave or enter his or her home,” the Aam Aadmi Party said in a statement. Delhi police have denied the allegations, saying it was a normal deployment to avoid any clashes.
At least 15 opposition groups supported the strike. Tens of thousands of farmers have laid siege to the capital Delhi over the past 12 days, closing almost every entrance. There are also heavy police deployments at border checkpoints.
The ruling Baratiya Janata Party (BJP) said the changes, which would allow independent players to play a greater role in the agricultural sector, would not hurt farmers’ money.
But farmers are not sure. In recent weeks, thousands of them have marched to Delhi, with tractors and on foot. They were met at the border by barricades and a riot broke out as police and soldiers tried to prevent them from entering the capital.
Most of the protesting farmers are from the northern provinces of the Punjab and Haryana, and belong to the richest agricultural communities in the country. Their campaign has gained popularity on social media, and among the powerful Sikh community in Punjab and overseas.
Although they were later allowed to enter the city, thousands of them remained at the border, promising not to leave until the government reversed the changes. Protest sites have already turned into camps, with all families cooking and sleeping in the open.
The protests came at a time when the epidemic was raging in India – although crime cases have dropped across the country, Delhi has had major problems in recent months.
Images of thousands of elderly Punjab and Haryana farmers – known as the “food bowl” of India – shed tears and splash water in the cold of winter and give them great public sympathy in India and international dispersal.
The farm debt owed the South African parliament when it was passed in September, leading to the suspension of eight opposition members.
The New Farm Laws
Taken together, the controversial reforms will liberate the laws surrounding the sale, pricing and preservation of farm produce – laws that have protected Indian farmers from free market unrestricted for decades.
They also allow private consumers to collect valuable goods for future sale, which can only be done by previously authorized government agents; and explain the rules of contract farming, in which farmers tailor their product to suit the needs of a particular consumer.
Another major change is that farmers will be allowed to sell their produce at market price directly to private players – agricultural businesses, supermarket chains and online retailers. Most Indian farmers currently sell most of their produce in government-market markets or mandis at low prices.
These markets are run by committees made up of farmers, usually large landowners, and traders or “commission agents” who act as intermediaries for retail sales, storage planning and relocation, or cash transactions.
The changes, at least on paper, give farmers the opportunity to trade without the so-called “mandi system”.
Why Are Farmers Disappointed?
The problem is that it is not clear how this will actually play out.
“We will lose our lands, we will lose our money if you let big business people cut prices and buy crops,” Gurnam Singh Charuni, one of the main leaders of the riots, told the BBC recently.
“We do not trust big business. Free markets operate in countries with less corruption and more laws. They will not work for us here,” he said.
Farmers are deeply concerned that these changes will eventually lead to the collapse of supermarket markets and guaranteed prices, leaving them with no means of subsistence. That is, if they are not satisfied with the price offered by a private buyer, they cannot return to the market or use it as a negotiation process during negotiations.
The government has said the mandi program will continue, and they will not waive the low prices they currently offer. But farmers are suspicious.
“First of all, farmers will feel attracted to these independent players, who will offer a better product price. Government order will pack now and after a few years, these players will start exploiting farmers. That is what we are afraid of,” Multan Singh Rana, a farmer in the northern province of Punjab, told BBC Punjabi.