The Indian farmers' protest of 2020-2021 was a year-long mass protest against three farm acts passed by the Indian Parliament, demanding their repeal. The laws aimed to deregulate produce markets and introduce market forces, which farmers feared would harm their livelihoods. After sustained protests, the government agreed to abandon the controversial laws, marking a significant event in India's recent history. The protests took place during the lethal wave of COVID-19, and this caused intense hardship to the protestors, who spent months living on the streets, braving the harsh weather and the police.
Herein, we brief you on how the protests ended and what the lessons are.
End of the Indian Farmers’ Protests
In December 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government announced the repeal of three farm laws that sparked protests, marking a significant victory for farmers calling for their repeal since September 2020. This decision marks a significant shift in the government's response to farmers' demands.
The repeal of farm laws ended Indian farmers' year-long protests, which resulted in numerous deaths due to COVID-19 and heat. The government's agreement to discuss farmers' demands, including guaranteed produce prices and dismissal of criminal charges, led to the protests' cancellation.
Much as we are pleased that the protests got over, it is not possible to forget the loss of lives (speculated to be around 700). We are still perturbed by the visuals of Indian farmers fighting with the soldiers in a country where the slogan 'Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan' (Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer) gives goosebumps to true patriots.
The Indian farmers' protest in 2020-2021 emphasised unity, collaboration, grassroots mobilisation, media use, citizen engagement, and non-violent protest for social change. Demand for legally-guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP) impacts crop diversification, land use optimisation, and environmental sustainability.
Would the whole of India have participated in supporting the farmers if the COVID-19 scare had not been around? One can never be too sure.
With agriculture not considered economically feasible, should the next generation of farmers look for jobs in the service sector? Who will feed the nation, then? Is it not wise to keep up the morale of the farmers and give them a hand in their noble work? In any case, most of us, urban folks, would not want to do the work, as to do it would make our hands dirty.
In summary, of the Indian farmers' protests in 2020, the highlight is the predominantly peacefully won victory. This is applauded even if it took 11 rounds of discussions and more than 350 days of sustained efforts by the determined farmers.
Some recommendations for the government are:
- The government must promptly engage all stakeholders for equal participation and voice, adhering to the constitutional framework during decision-making. Citizens and government officials should exercise power without negative consequences.
- A nation's wealth is not achieved through a 'quid pro quo' approach. An equitable distribution of wealth is possible, but a status quo situation is inevitable. India, a low- and middle-income country, must act appropriately to maintain its legacy.
As far as citizens go, the onus is on them to be aware of the socio-political situation in the country. This could be used to advantage not just during elections but also otherwise. Being politically savvy and unbiased is of utmost importance in today's world.
Assuming that the underlying intent of all policies by the government is for the welfare of the public, some recommendations are:
- We are living in times when climate change is wreaking havoc every day in one part of the world or another. Many countries have taken proactive measures, and India could adopt what is suitable.
- The seeds for growth could come from agricultural seeds themselves. A nation, fed properly, can become productive, adding to the primary concern of most, the GDP.
- It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that land, soil, and water availability are in order so that farmers can work their magic.
- The government should be able to carry out holistic studies that will improve the living conditions of the public, including farmers.
- Local bodies can be authorised to involve the public in discussions. The receiving end needs to know the activities of the officials they have elected. This, if implemented well, has the potential to phase out corruption.
- Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) in India empower small farmers by providing a platform for collaboration, resource pooling, and improved productivity, covering various agricultural sectors and promoting sustainable livelihoods. However, since the launch of 10,000 FPOs in February 2020 (prior to the farmers' protest), they have been plagued with issues regarding limited production quantities, lack of access to public resources, quality inputs, credit facilities, modern technologies, frequent crop failures, and a host of others. The government and the farmers are not done with their endeavour to improve the agricultural scene in India. There is a ray of hope in the government initiative being named as an agri-business venture, the Small Farmers' Agri-Business Consortium (SFAC).
- The local bodies must communicate periodic assessments of all development projects to the public and the state government. This will ensure transparency and effectiveness of projects, thereby giving the public first-hand information on progress, if any. This enhances the power of the citizen.
India has made significant progress in achieving self-reliance on food since the late 1960s (the poverty percentage was around 63%), partly due to the efforts of M.S. Swaminathan, who initiated the Green Revolution. In FY 2021-22, India's agriculture exports reached a historic high of USD 50 billion, with staples like rice, wheat, sugar, cereals, and meat contributing to this achievement. The central government's initiatives to increase food grain production have played a crucial role in this success. This progress starkly contrasts the past when India faced food shortages and had to rely on imports, as seen in 1950-51. In 2019, the poverty rate was close to 83%, a fall from 88% in 2016. According to government data, farmers, city labourers, Muslims, and Dalits are the poorest in India.
Regarding the Indian farmers’ protests, what was commendable was the solidarity among the protestors, the resilience and adaptability according to unfavourable circumstances, and the moving target. In light of all of the above, the Farm Bills were a chimaera of sorts. The Indian farmers' protests continued for more than a year. The mass movement concluded on December 9, 2021, with the government agreeing to abandon the controversial agricultural laws. This meant that the corporatisation of agricultural products, which otherwise would have been on the anvil, was dissolved, taking with it the pipe dream of the government.
This biggest self-sustained, voluntary, non-violent protest in modern Indian history will be remembered forever. It will also be recorded for its epic failure to consider the subjective side of a policy decision and its over-reliance on monetary values alone. The next government should prioritise formulating a strategic vision for Indian agriculture that goes beyond the issue of food inflation.
Fortunately for him, Mahatma Gandhi did not live to see this protest of farmers. This statement is being made since he believed that "the real India lives in her villages."