After protests by Indian farmers

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Release date: Week of January 21, 2022


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Protesters in India gather in March 2021, months before the Indian government repeals the Three Farm Bills. (Photo: Jaskaran, JK Photography, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Farmer protests in India are largely over now that the government has repealed a set of controversial laws, but farmers are still waiting for government action to fix what they see as a flawed system. Omair Ahmad from The Third Pole joins Bobby Bascomb from Living on Earth to talk about the results of the protests and how a young climate activist has drawn the ire of the Indian government for speaking out.

Transcription

CURWOOD: India has more than 1.3 billion people and more than half of them live from agriculture. In recent years, the monsoon season has changed drastically, forcing many farmers to tackle climate change. Then, in August 2020, the Indian government announced huge changes in agricultural laws and payment systems. The government claimed the measures would modernize India’s agricultural sector, but farmers feared the new laws would put them at a disadvantage compared to big agribusinesses. Farmers’ main concern was a plan to scrap the government’s traditional minimum support prices. So, for more than a year, millions of farmers took to the streets and staged massive protests. In November, with an important election approaching, the government responded to farmers’ immediate demands by repealing the controversial measures. Now the protests have been declared over, but farmers are still awaiting several government actions to fix what they see as a broken system. To find out more, Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb spoke with Omair Ahmad, the South Asia editor for The Third Pole.

BASCOMB: So did the farmers get everything they wanted here from the government? Or are they still holding out for certain items?

AHMAD: No, the farmers got one thing, which is a cancellation of the three laws. They did not understand the second thing, which is to make the minimum support price a law in itself. They wanted it to be encoded in a law. Right now it’s just an administrative thing that the government does, and the government can, at any time if they want, either mitigate that or get rid of it completely.

BASCOMB: So the culture wants that minimum support price to be there, but the farmers want it codified. Are they still working towards that goal?

AHMAD: The farmers’ unions have raised this issue. It’s not being talked about at the moment, largely because India is in the throes of election fever for its biggest state, which is Uttar Pradesh, and it’s also a very dependent state. criticism of agriculture as a source of income. But it has a population of over 200 million and sends the most people to our parliament. It is therefore of paramount political importance. And so everything right now is just focused on that state. And for many analyzes of the government’s decision to roll back the laws, it was feared that it would lose the election in Yupi.

Indian farmers are still seeking government action to help them tackle the climate crisis and an increasingly corporatized agricultural industry. (Photo: Ravan Khosa, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

BASCOMB: Well, that’s the obvious question here, you know, a massive protest in a largely agrarian state doesn’t look too good when you’re heading into an election. Do you think that is part of the reason why the government has capitulated now after a year and four months of protests?

AHMAD: Uh, well, it’s impossible to say, honestly. The government has said several things. And its representatives have also said that we will continue to push for these laws. And even in repealing these laws, the Prime Minister basically said he failed to convince people, not that he thought there was anything particularly wrong with this law. So no one can guess why exactly the government decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. Because it was a big gamble, it would have changed the face of Indian agriculture. And that basically means facing and changing the face of India.

BASCOMB: Now, at the beginning of last year, we talked about the arrest of Disha Ravi. She was a young climate activist who worked on a call to action called a toolkit to help farmers protest. And this was cited as evidence of sedition by the government and led to his arrest. What’s the latest with Disha Ravi?

AHMAD: Disha is out. She and a few others were released largely on bail. The case has not yet been judged. And unfortunately, India has a long history of very slow government systems, which is especially ridiculous when you have serious cases like sedition, which should be an incredibly serious matter for government. But India convicts very few people for sedition. He accuses a lot of people of sedition.

BASCOMB: Hmm.

AHMAD: He charges a lot of people under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which is a big bag that he puts anyone who is dissenting or who disagrees with the terrorists. And in the last few years he’s convicted maybe 2% of those cases.

BASCOMB: Hmm.

AHMAD: So, unfortunately, a lot of these laws are easy to blame. But the vast number of them are people whose guilt has never been proven by the state. The process itself is a punishment. And that’s often used by political parties against a political opponent, against people they find inconvenient for one thing or another. And sadly, I think Disha Ravi fell into that particular criteria.

BASCOMB: Looks like it might be used to intimidate.

AHMAD: Yes, it’s often used to intimidate, especially in the case of Disha Ravi, I think. The government received a lot of negative press abroad about the farmers’ protests, even from people who agreed in principle on the need for land reform. It has been widely said, yes, that these laws may be necessary, but that is not the way to do it. But when you have someone like Disha Ravi, who was also linked to Extinction Rebellion, and then Greta Thunberg tweeting about it, then the Indian government gets negative publicity which they don’t like because they need to, you know, investment and support to pull India out of deep poverty. And therefore, I think she was seen as someone who was part of all of this and that would send a message to young people, especially with global connections, to stay away from this type of politics.

CURWOOD: Omair Ahmad is the South Asia Editor for The Third Pole, speaking with Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb.

Connections

The New York Times | “Indian farmers call off year-long protest against hated farm laws”

Listen to our past coverage of Indian agricultural protests

Listen to our past coverage of Disha Ravi’s arrest

About Omair Ahmad

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