Indian farmers cancel year-long protest against hated farm laws

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NEW DELHI – Harminder Singh said he was going home.

“It’s proof of unity,” said Singh, 23, as he looked over a group of farmers dancing to Punjabi tunes and others pouring spoonfuls of rice pudding as the news broke. .

After a sustained protest that forced one of the country’s most powerful leaders into a rare retreat, Indian farmers said on Thursday they were halting their action, more than a year after besieging outside New Delhi in response to agricultural laws they feared would destroy their livelihoods.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stunned the nation last month when he announced his government would repeal three laws that were passed in September 2020 with the aim of reforming the country’s ailing agricultural sector. At the time, he urged farmers to return home, but they did not do so immediately, vowing to wait for the laws to be officially broken. Last week, Parliament made this possible, approving the repeal without debate.

The protesting farmers had other demands, and they said Thursday that Mr. Modi’s government had agreed, at least in principle, to discuss and resolve the major ones, including a national law guaranteeing minimum prices for crops and food. removal of tens of thousands of charges. filed against farmers who demonstrate.

They were also asking for compensation for the families of those who lost their lives in the harsh conditions of a year of protests, such as exposure to extreme temperatures, heart attacks and Covid-19.

“It’s a complete victory,” said Ramandeep Singh Mann, an engineer turned farmer rights activist, wearing a pink turban. Still, he acknowledged that questions remained as to whether the government would respond to the additional requests and who would be on the government committee to discuss guaranteed minimum prices. “In every move you don’t get everything,” he conceded.

Mr Mann added that the fight for farmers’ rights was far from over, although the protest was called off by agricultural unions and a majority of those involved would start returning to their villages from Saturday. Mr Mann said some would continue camping at the site until Jan. 15, when farmers’ organizations would come together again to deliberate on the movement’s future. So far, he said, 85 percent of people would start packing and leaving.

“It is a long fight, and we are able to renew our protest once more if necessary,” he said.

The movement may have succeeded in drawing attention to the desperation on Indian farms, but the battle is half won, experts say. Serious problems remain with India’s agricultural system, which prompts farmers to grow too many wrong types of crops. Both sides recognize that something has to be done.

Devinder Sharma, an independent scientist and agricultural expert based in the northern city of Chandigarh, said the pro-market laws passed by Modi last year were described as an “agricultural revolution”. But, he said, “the markets have never given farmers a legitimate income. The market edifice we created as a response has not worked anywhere in the world.

At Singhu village, the main protest site in New Delhi, where farmers camped during the winter rains and sweltering summer heat, the mood was both triumphant and cautious.

Tractors equipped with loudspeakers shouted victory songs as a small section of farmers sat on the ground, holding posters demanding guaranteed prices and justice for those cut down in a horrific incident in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Satnam Singh, a farmer wearing chains and padlocks on his chest in protest, said he was going nowhere until the government decided to pass the law guaranteeing crop prices. “The protest is not over,” said Singh, 28, who said he had given up eating in recent days with five other people. “We will move this demonstration forward even if others return.”

Mr. Singh and his group of farmers pointed to the padlocks holding their chains. “The MSP is the key to ending this protest,” they said, using an abbreviation for minimum support prices.

Muhammad Jahangir, a 26-year-old student, seemed deeply suspicious of the government’s promises, saying the committees were a way for Mr. Modi and the agricultural unions to distort the protest movement. “Committees have never benefited farmers,” he said. “Farmer leaders want to move on to fight the election. Who cares about farmers?

Harminder Singh, the 23-year-old farmer, said he was proud the movement had achieved what it set out to do in the first place: get the laws repealed. “We will come back if we are asked to come back,” he said.

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