The largest protest in human history: The Farm Bills

Recently, throughout the Bay Area a lot of people have been taking the streets to protest causes they are passionate about. For example, on December 5th a group of organized protesters were seen protesting on the SF Bay Bridge, slowing traffic down. They organized everything on social media and planned to head to San Francisco to make their voices heard. But the question is, what are these protests about? Election Fraud? Climate Change? Black Lives Matter? Actually, these protests have nothing to do with the United States. These protesters in our local area are of Indian descent. They are spreading awareness and trying to support their brethren in India by joining the largest protest in all of human history. They are standing with the 200 million Indian farmers who are in disagreement against the new bills in the Indian Parliament. Nicknamed the Farm Bills, they were passed on September 20th by the Upper House headed by Rajya Sabha. The Opposition members in Parliament strongly criticize these bills, saying that they didn’t have enough time to review them properly. Meanwhile the BJP Party, who is the political majority in Parliament, states that the purpose of the bill is to benefit the farmers by relaxing market restrictions.

These Farm Bills are set to remove the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for farmers, which is the minimum price you can sell your vegetables for. This price is important because it ensures the middlemen between the farmers and their buyers won’t exploit the farmers. Another change brought about by the new bills let’s farmers independently sell their crops to private firms or markets, cutting out the middleman. This is important since farmers can now profit more without a cut being taken, but there is a catch. Without the MSP the private businesses or markets who buy these crops from farmers to sell themselves can expose farmers to exploitation, which was previously prevented by laws like the MSP. The government says this bill was originally supposed to help the farmers; however, the farmers of India saw it as a “Death-Warrant.” According to Forbes, every 30 minutes an Indian farmer commits suicide due to low yields and lack of profits from crops. The farmers see it as the government selling out to the big corporations; meanwhile, the government sees it as basic reform. The main point of conflict is that farmers accounted for 60% of India’s economy 30 years ago, which is now down to 15%. With rising debt, and this new bill imposed on them they see it as a nail in the coffin for their livelihoods. Furthermore the government of India has been known to do historic reforms to its structure, the last one being in the 1990s to create a proper capitalistic economy. The government sees the Farm Bills as just another reform for the farmers and the future of India.

The farmers see the Indian Government passing these bills as adding fuel to the fire. Removing the MSP essentially gives all the bargaining power (in regards to price) to the big corporations. For example, an Indian farmer can sell his crop at a minimum of 10 INR by law. It is illegal to bargain lower than this price to protect the profits of the farmers. Now, with the middleman gone and big corporations assuming the role of the main buyers, the absence of an MSP hands all the bargaining power to these huge companies. This means all farmers are exposed to brutal exploitation. The Indian Government recently opened up negotiations with the farmers to talk and edit the terms of the Farm Bills, but the farmers just want the old laws back, and won’t stop protesting until all the Farm Bills have been repealed.

This disagreement has led to the largest strike in global history, with 200 million people leaving their homes and farms behind to head to the capital, New Delhi, to protest these new laws. They have blocked major highways, roadways and other modes of transport. The farmers say they can stay and continue protesting in the capital for a half a year until their crops need their attention again. These protests have not been easy, especially considering that New Delhi has recently recorded it’s coldest temperatures in 70 years. A few skirmishes between law enforcement and the farmers have even broken out. Over 100 people have been reported dead throughout these protests, either because of the cold, or as a result of the conflicts with law enforcement. One of the key organizations helping the farmers stay warm and fed during the protests is KhalsaAid, a nonprofit humanitarian organization founded in 1999. The organization has also been involved in giving relief funds to Syria in 2014, the current Mynmar Muslim refugee crisis, and the major flash floods in India in 2018. This is since most farmers are of pretty old age especially the ones protesting these bills.

The protests are still going strong as of January 20th 2021, and have no signs of stopping soon. The Government of India wants to negotiate terms, but the protesters refuse to accept anything less thanthe laws being repealed entirely. No side has stepped up to look for compromise so currently it is uncertain what the outcome will be.

The majority of the population in India opposes these bills, and the labor class, like tailors, electricians, and hard laborers, ceased working to support the farmers in New Delhi by protesting with them on the streets. They are joined by Indians around the world, including many here in the Bay Area.

Bhavleen Kaur, a sophomore from James Logan High School states, “I fully support the farmers because they are protesting for what’s right and their future as well as Punjab’s future. My overall thoughts are that farmers and elders shouldn’t have to go through all this, especially with a worldwide pandemic along with other things going on around the world right now.” Arleen K., a sophomore from Will C. Wood High School located in the Northern Bay Area, agrees: “I support our kisaans [farmers] because they are protesting for what’s right, which the government doesn’t see. They’re not just protesting for their rights, but for their future as well as Punjab’s future,” she says. “The elders shouldn’t be going through these hardships.” Simirit Mann, a junior at Washington says this cause is important to her because “not only does [her] family come from generations of farmers, but this is a matter of human rights.” She explained that 70 farmers have already committed suicide because of the struggles they face, and continued, “so I do support the farmers and I think the bills should be taken back because farmers feed their families by their land, and if that is taken away, I don’t think they will survive.” The protests in India are certainly one of the biggest events going on in the world currently, but Western media outlets are not covering it.Whether through family connections or food exports from India, this cause has an effect on us all.

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Aansh Sharma is a junior at Washington High School. He grew up in Munich, Germany and Mumbai, India and then Fremont, California. This is his first year at the Hatchet. His interests are running the Gaming Club and reporting on the local news. He also likes to play video games. He would like to get a job in Computer Science to allow him to support himself. While Computer Science seems boring, he will try to have fun with it despite that, and also distract himself with gaming sometimes.

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