Behind the Indian Farmer’s Strike

Against the Current No. 210, January/February 2021

Aditya Nigam

PERHAPS THE LARGEST general strike in history, farmers in India are in revolt against a set of new laws imposed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The following is an edited excerpt from a lengthy article on the history of the struggle, “India: The Farmers’ Struggle and the Agrarian Crisis,” published by Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

THE GOVERNMENT’S NEW laws seek to hand over agriculture to the corporate sector — which will effectively mean destruction for a large mass of farmers. Naturally they are up in arms in what is perhaps the most determined struggle of the last four decades.

The three ordinances that are currently pushing farmers into a “do or Die” strug­gle are: (i) Farmers Produce Trade and Com­merce Ordinance, 2020, (ii) The Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, and (iii) The Essential Commodities Ordinance, 2020. Farmers’ organizations opposing the ordinances claim that they have been very misleadingly named so as to give the impression that they empower the farmers.

What the three together aim to achieve is the dismantling of state procurement (though on paper it may remain), and there­by open agriculture to contract farming for big corporations, allowing them to corner essential food commodities in as large quantities as they want.

Contract farming, already happening informally at individual levels, once it is made the norm, is certainly going to seriously compromise food security for all. For if an agribusiness firm eyeing quick and massive profits wants farmers to change from essential food production to some other crop, it will decide what will be produced.

Of course, what gets you quick profits is not what is sold as essential food item in the domestic or local market, but could be anything from potatoes for chips to corn to manufacture “alternative fuel” for U.S. consumers. So entire cropping patterns can change, endangering our food sovereignty.

The farmers, in short, are not just fight­ing a battle for their own survival but one where the survival of all of us is at stake. If the design visualized in the three ordinances comes to pass, it will also lead to the complete destruction of hundreds of thousands of people who earn their livelihoods by selling fruit and vegetables — for those too will be produced by farmers under contract farming with corporations which will sell them at their retail stores. Prices for millions of consumers too will then be determined by giant retail chains.

Why have the farmers and peasants been agitating for the last couple of years?

“Farmers are not just a residue from our past; farmers, agriculture and village India are integral to the future of India and the world,” declares the Kisan Charter (Farmers’ Charter) released by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC, a platform of over 250 peasants’ organizations) that had called for the massive Kisan Mukti March in New Delhi, two years ago, on 29-30 November 2018.

This was a decisive declaration by the farmers of India, who until just the other day were committing suicide in the face of destitution. [It signals] that they are not ready to vacate the stage and go into oblivion in the name of Development or Progress.

We no longer believe it was the historical destiny of Native Amerians or Indigenous people to make way for “modern civilization.”

The real challenge before the peasants’ and farmers’ movement now lies in articulating “an agro-ecology paradigm that is based on suitable cropping patterns and local seed diversity revival so as to build economic viability and ecologically sustainable, autonomous and climate-resilient agriculture,” in the words of the Farmers’ Charter. This is where it will require a great deal of patience and maturity and a readiness to re-think ideological articles of faith.

January-February 2021, ATC 210