Farmers Issue in Punjab, India.
The notorious Farm Laws have been repealed.
India’s Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, bowed to the democratic wish of a large contingent of his citizens and after a brief apology that he hadn’t been able to persuade them of the merits of the laws, announced repealing them.
Nearly half of the Indian population works directly or indirectly in the agricultural sector. Over 85% of farms in India are small farms, ranging from one hectare to five hectares. Three states, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are essentially agrarian states. Most farmers suspected that the laws, enacted formally with the President’s assent on the 27th of September 2020, would push them into bankruptcy and force them to sell their land to large agribusinesses. Generally, people suspected that the laws were a backdoor attempt to sweep away small farms and introduce large scale farming in India comparable to mega-farms in Canada, the USA and Australia.
There was justification in their suspicions. Small farming is not lucrative. It sustains the family and brings in some profits. Around the world, small farms have been supported by State subsidies. This ensures food security, reduces poverty and is helpful for the environment as well as a diversity of crops.
Subsidy has been key to farming, whether large scale farms or small-scale farms. Large farms make larger profits by economies of scale. Small farms make very small profits and often need a larger subsidy in some cases.
Europe, China, India and parts of South America, all have small farms dependent on subsidies from their Governments. This is disliked by some leading western countries with mega farms, who want to sell their crops to developing countries. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) insidiously favours these developed countries by treating farming in the same way as manufacturing. The WTO restricts subsidies to a mere 10% above production costs. This has the effect of pushing small farmers out of business as a 10% margin on a 2-hectare farm is not enough to buy even essentials for a family, such as education for children, water, heating, etc… Governments creatively push subsidies to between 50% and 80% above production costs.
The Indian Farm Laws had three aspects that farmers found threatening to their way of life.
The Government wanted to take away their subsidy, called Minimum Support Price. It wanted farmers to sell in the open market to large traders.
The Government wanted to run-down State-run markets that were set up to buy produce from farmers. Instead, the private sector was being invited to build larger but fewer centres. This would have added considerably to costs and time as the small farmers would have had to travel hundreds of miles in some cases to sell their produce.
Thirdly, the Government wanted to bring in contract farming but block access to courts in case of disputes. Farmers would have been at the mercy of corporates interpreting the contract as they wanted. The dispute would have then been resolved by civil servants, often given to the corruption that is rife across India. For more information, please click here.
Eighteen months of a relentless and sustained protest by the farmers, that started in Punjab and then moved to the outskirts of Delhi forced the Government to change its mind. The Indian public started to back the farmers and the party in Government, the BJP, started to lose votes around the country. The most spectacular was in the Bengal state elections.
The protest has been an incredible show of strength, endurance and determination. Men, women, children and the elderly, camped in their tractors, trolleys and tents surrounding Delhi. Food poured in and kitchens were set up. Entertainment was set up. Talks, lectures and daily briefings were set up. The leaders of the farmers, some 40 of them, showed a unique unity. The protesting farmers endured the cold, heat, rain and the COVID-19 pandemic, but refused to back down.
The protest was helped by the international community. Most of the help came from Punjabis settled around the world. But many international politicians, celebrities and academics made statements in support of farmers.
The Sikh Human Rights Group started to work on this issue quite early on. It brought out a document that showed that the Farm Laws breached the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas 2018 (UNDROP) that India had signed only 2 years before. All three farm laws contravened the main articles of the UNDROP.
This was picked up by the farm leaders.
The SHRG then gave its platform to one of the farmer leaders to speak at the UN Human Rights Council, where Dr Darshanpal was able to explain the issue and debunk Government propaganda in a speech that only lasted 90 seconds.
The SHRG then held a press conference at the Geneva Press Club in association with Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall, UK. Five of the farmer leaders were present on Zoom along with an MP from Switzerland. These actions had the result of addressing disinformation about farmers and the laws that were circulating amongst the diplomats at the United Nations.
The SHRG continued to work quietly in order to influence the debate. Its main concerns were:
- The lack of negotiation and consultation with the farmers and their leaders;
- Denial of Justice (access to courts) in disputes;
- The very real possibility of poverty deepening; and
- The devastating effect this new model would have on the environment should large scale farming have been allowed to take over in India. To read the full report please click here
The SHRG also intervened at the United Nations when police heavy-handedness led to human rights violations and when the Indian Government stopped water supplies and sanitary facilities. Concerns expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights helped restore these facilities and checked any human rights violations. For more information please click here, here, here and here.
Small farming Unions around the world have been boosted by the success of the protests. There is growing concern about the WTO and its pro developed countries leaning. There is also a growing awareness that small farms are best for the climate, the environment, the social fabric of communities and for reducing poverty and thus need to be protected!
The SHRG is proud to play its part in this movement.