To: Detroit/Seattle Workers' Voice mailing list
February 27, 2021
Re: Millions of farmers fight against the privatization and corporatization of agriculture planned by the fundamentalist Modi government of India

Half a year of mass protest in India
against the Farm Bills

by Joseph Green, Seattle Workers' Voice

The Hindu fundamentalist government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced half a year of protests by millions upon millions of enraged farmers against the three Farm Bills it pushed through parliament last year. These bills would lead to replacing the present system of farm subsidies with contract farming, where small farmers would be at the mercy of wealthy corporations with whom they would be forced by financial necessity to negotiate contracts. The protests began in August last year, as soon as the bills became public; after the bills were passed in September, the protest movement exploded across the country, embracing the mass of Indian farmers. Then on November 26 there was a one-day general strike by trade unions in support of the farmers; it shut down entire Indian states, and the trade unions claim that 250 million people took part. As well, farmers began to march to the capital city of New Delhi in the "Delhi Chalo" movement; several hundred thousand farmers would camp outside the city. Since then, mass rallies have also taken place elsewhere, and protesters have at times blocked train tracks, roads, and state borders in northern India. New protests were scheduled for Feb. 23-27.

Unable to stop the movement by the use of arrests, cutting the internet, putting up barbed wire fences, and other means of repression, the Indian government has also tried to placate the movement by offering to postpone the implementation of the Farm Bills by up to 18 months, and by claiming that farm subsidies wouldn't really be eliminated. But farmers aren't buying it. They are insisting on the repeal of the bills, and demanding more support for agriculture.

The majority of the Indian population is still based in the countryside. Most of the cultivated land is divided up into tiny family farms, with about a fifth of the cultivators being landless agricultural workers. The farmers fear that Modi's idea of modernizing the countryside will make life unbearable for them. And in fact, the spread of large-scale capitalism in agriculture has always meant pushing most of the farmers off the land.

Indian farmers need change, but not the change Modi is offering. Small-scale agriculture is in crisis in India. In an ongoing, horrible tragedy, almost 300,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1995; that's more than 10,000 a year. They have mainly been driven into deep despair by the inability to pay back loans, and the impending ruin or starvation of their families.

The various modernization programs of the Indian governments over the years have made things harder for Indian small farmers. The "Green Revolution" resulted in higher costs for farm inputs, such as seeds, pesticides, etc. The use of genetically-modified seeds, for example, makes farmers dependent on Monsanto or other seed companies. This is one of things pushing farmers into debt, and causing bad harvests or low prices to be an ever worst catastrophe for them. The further entrance of corporations into the countryside, as envisioned in Modi's Farm Bills, will only make things worse.

The bourgeois and market fundamentalist press around the world says the countryside needs privatization and modernization. But the replacement of regulation by corporate power will simply make the rural population more miserable. The Indian countryside needs better schools, medical care, and environmental planning; the farmers needs better support than the current subsidy system, which is breaking down in various parts of the country, and they need government measures that deal with their welfare and suffering, and which also provide land or livable wages for the landless; none of these things would be provided by the Farm Bills. The farmers need more collective means of cultivation and planning, or else the agony of the small farmers will continue. But what Modi is proposing is to allow big capital to come in and squeeze the countryside even more than is currently done.

The farmers have stood their ground for half a year now. Nothing has stopped them; neither harsh weather, nor COVID-19, nor police. Over 150 protesters have died in the course of the movement. The farmers' struggle is the largest challenge yet faced by the reactionary Modi government. True to its nature as a government of fundamentalist bigotry, this government has replied to the movement by trying to incite communal hatred and claiming that the protests are being carried out by Muslim infiltrators or Sikh separatists. Actually, farmers from all of India's religions -- Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, etc. -- are involved, and Sikhs are prominent because the Punjab, which is majority Sikh, is known as India's breadbasket, and it is near enough to New Delhi that it has filled the ranks of farmers marching there.

The farmers' movement is supported by opposition parties of various trends, but it is not itself based on a particular political stand. It demands the repeal of the Farm Bills and immediate measures to support the farmers, such as better prices for farm products, but it does not have an overall plan for the direction of the Indian economy. Nevertheless, its very existence helps puncture the pretense of Modi's fundamentalists to care about the people, and shows that he is a defender of the rich bourgeoisie and large corporations, not the masses of people.

India has one-sixth of the world's people, and two-thirds of its population is rural. The fate of India as a whole depends in large part on what happens in the countryside and to the working people who labor there.

Notes

Picture of farmers at a  sit-in at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border in January, contained in an article on Indian farmers in California demonstrating in support of the farmers struggle in India. <>


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 February 28, 2021
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