Unresolved Farmer’s Protests in India Exposes Ethnic Biases of the BJP Government

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Indian Parliament enacted three new laws in Sep 2020, in an attempt towards liberalizing the agriculture system of India. Apparently, these laws allow the farmer to sell their product anywhere in the country and outside the Agriculture produce market committee (APMC) without tax. The government eliminated the middle man from APMC so that farmers could directly sell their product to Corporates under certain agreements. Since the Corporations have significant power and political lobbying differential as compared to the farmers, this act can help Corporation make a monopoly and set specific quality and price demand for the crops, which will make things difficult for a small farmer, from far-flung areas in particular. Soon afterwards the world saw the largest organized protests by farmers in history taking place in India, having somewhere around 250 million participants. By April 2021, the protests touched an eighth-month mark without any concrete resolution reached. One of the significant demands made from the government stands to be the ensuing of minimum support price (MSP) for the financial security of farmer’s community. A major focal point of these protests and slogans raised are the allegations on the BJP to be an undemocratic regime which is aiding the Corporations to exploit working and labor class under the supervision of Indian government.

Another key aspect of these protests is the racial and ethnic discrimination of Sikh community, and the reaction of these BJP to these initially peaceful demonstrators was able to call out the ethnic discrimination and persecution which several minority ethnic groups have faced under the BJP tenure. After these laws were passed by Rajya Sabah last year, protests started throughout the country especially in Punjab, Haryana, and Utter Pradesh. These areas have a majority Sikh population of about 57%, a majority of whom are associated to farming for livelihood in Punjab due to the agrarian richness of the soil in the region.  In the past India has experienced the Sikh uprising when they demanded a separate Sikh homeland on the basis of their numeric and cultural dominance and relative majority in Punjab. Many of the Sikh leaders were sentenced to jail and several others exiled to live in Canada, USA, and Europe. This ethnic group’s grievances can be traced back to the time of partition in 1945, when its population and area of origin was split between rival states of India and Pakistan causing severing of ties, loss of land, and inability to visit holy sites; a condition which was recently rectified by the Government of Pakistan’s Kartarpur corridor initiative. In an attempt to de-escalate the polarities with Sikhs and the farming community amongst them in particular, several rounds of talks with Farmer Unions were set by BJP since the start of protests, which failed because farmers are demanding the complete abrogation of Laws, resulting in failure of the state in addressing their concerns.

The role of BJP controlled Media is of particular concern here where instead of highlighting genuine demands of farmers, it keeps accusing them as secessionist, extremist, and misled by opposition parties. This however neither the first nor the sole instance of BJP leadership spreading hatred and division between ethnicities in India. These protests have not only exposed governmental but also civil society bias against ethnic pluralism and egalitarian economy. Several Bollywood celebrities, prominent media figures and sports persons were seen supporting the government’s stance on new laws. Celebrities across the world however showed solidarity to the cause, Rihanna an American pop star, tweeted in solidarity with farmers, followed by remarks of prominent Swedish climate change activist Greta, and Lawyer Meena Harries who is the niece of Kamala Harris, the US vice president. In response, Indian ministers, Bollywood celebrities, and Indian cricketers persistently twitted in the support of BJP, lashing out at these celebrities and activist’s public social media accounts.

Indian Farmers are still determined to get their legal right, saying they are ready to extend this sit in till 2023. Only recently, “Save Constitution Day” and “Kisan Bahujan Unity Day” was celebrated on 14th April by farmers amidst their protests in New Delhi’s border. Protestors organized a special event on 18th April to recognize and honor the participation and dedication of local people that are standing with them to get their rights. This revived the protests; where farmers have pledged to hold a weeklong celebration from April 24th to onward on completion of 150 days of their protest. Students, traders, laborers, farmers, youth, and employees will be invited to join them in the last week of April. In the fortnight of May, they will undertake a foot march toward parliament peacefully.

A fundamental and disturbing tactic used by BJP in dealing with this protest is the use of force and harassment against the farmer using its security sector and media cells. Farmer’s leadership has responded to these threats by saying, “Don’t think that our protest is the same as Shaheen bagh”. State’s insistence to seek compulsion instead of consensus has already pushed parties to a stalemate. Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) which translates to “Joint Farmers Force” or “United Farmers Front” was formed in November 2020 to form a politically united front in face of these governmental laws, one of the SKM leader Yudhvir Singh was picked up by police in Ahmadabad in March 2021, when he was addressing a press conference and hundreds of peaceful protestors were arrested by police from different cities around the same time. The BJP, while dealing with this issue, brazenly violated the democratic norms and rules though it projects itself as the biggest democracy in the world. If the Indian ruling regime, BJP, doesn’t take a prompt decision to tackle the issue then the situation will go beyond the control and it can falter Modi’s regime.

 

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