From the singer Rihanna to climate change activist Greta Thunberg, the Indian farmers’ protests have drawn support from across the globe. This, as the farmers and farm hands remain steadfast in their opposition to laws they believe will disenfranchise them, and destroy their way of life.
The massive protests have shaken India’s political establishment, but many South Africans still seem to be rather clueless about it when, in fact, there are many great reasons it should be on our radar too.
Farmers in India first took to the streets about three months ago to protest against three new agriculture laws. Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government insists these changes will empower farmers and boost growth by attracting private investment. However, many critics believe the proposed laws will put farmers at the mercy of big agribusinesses.
Many of the protesting farmers are members of the Sikh religious minority and come from the states of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in other parts of the country have held rallies in solidarity.
Massive protest rallies have been held across the country, and farmers have been occupying railway tracks and highways after both the upper and lower houses of parliament passed three controversial agriculture bills on 20 September 2020.
The three new bills, described as anti-farmer “black bills”, loosen the rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce. This means farmers can sell directly to private buyers, instead of government-controlled markets where they get a minimum guaranteed price.
Farmers and critics say these bills will allow private buyers to hoard essential commodities for future sales, and outline the rules for contract farming, where farmers tailor their production to suit a specific buyer’s demand.
Many protesters understand that the battle isn’t merely against the laws. They believe they are in the midst of a struggle to preserve food democracy in India and to halt the complete collapse of their way of life.
This might feel like it’s happening on the other side of the world, but here are five reasons why we should all care about the Indian protests.
1. We need to learn from each other
South Africa, along with India, is grappling with fundamental questions of what it means to live in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracy. It’s taking a long time for the world to accept the diversity of our people, and we are still witnessing harsh laws that disproportionately negatively affect minority populations.
This movement of farmer protests is being led by a religious minority, the Sikhs, in India. We are witnessing worldwide camaraderie as leaders, celebrities and activist groups are speaking up for them in order to help their fight.
We need to learn how to watch out for laws that affect others, and stand alongside affected communities in order to protect them when laws negatively affect their livelihoods.
2. Misinformation reigns
It’s no surprise that fake news and distorted media messages are common in our society. We have seen that there is no difference in India, where in the initial weeks of the protest, a concerted effort was made to paint the protesters as separatists or militants, supported by India’s enemies.
The protesters took to social media to dispel the misinformation, and when the attempts to defame the protests failed, the federal government renewed talks initially started in October last year.
Fake news and misinformation that deliberately attempts to paint minorities in a bad light will continue to emerge as people attempt to force their agendas onto the wider public. We need to stay aware of these tactics, be vigilant when we read news stories, and practice scepticism in order to remain properly informed.
3. Farmers are the backbone of our society
Food For Mzansi aims to highlight the importance of farmers in South Africa, and we notice every day how essential farmers are to our daily lives. The same is true in India. The fact is that people everywhere depend on agriculture. Not only those that make their living from it, but everybody globally as they put on their clothes, eat the food on their table, and drink a cup of coffee as they go to work.
Farmers should have their rights and livelihoods protected much more than they currently are, especially with the impacts of the pandemic and climate change threatening to impact agricultural land and outputs even more in the future.
4. Imports and exports will be impacted
Nothing happens in isolation in our connected world. If one country’s economy collapses, ripple effects spread across the globe. (We all still remember America’s housing market collapse in 2008 that triggered a global financial crisis, right?)
So, when massive halts in particular sectors happen in one country, all countries that have trade agreements with them, or that have invested in that country, get impacted as well.
Exports from India to South Africa include petrochemicals and fuel, pharmaceuticals, vehicles and components thereof, transport equipment, engineering goods, footwear, dyes, chemicals, textiles, gems and jewellery, and sports goods.
India is also the world’s second-largest producer of rice, wheat and other cereals, ranking second in fruits and vegetable production in the world just under China. The consequences of these protests can be felt worldwide.
Several South African companies have invested in India as well, including Sanlam, Life Healthcare Momentum, Airports Company of South Africa, FirstRand, Old Mutual, SAB Miller and Naspers, among others.
5. The protests haven’t been exclusive to India
People around the world have been protesting to show support and stand with the farmers in India. These protests are about the fair treatment of the people who feed their communities. Their importance must be noticed where they are so that people worldwide can start to appreciate farmers and agriculturists better.
Farmers are essential to our society, and essential workers across the world are suffering during the pandemic. The farmers in India represent all of them, and their resistance to unjust legislation that is a resistance that speaks to so many all over the world.
Celebrities including singer Rihanna, climate change activist Greta Thunberg, US lawyer and activist Meena Harris, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and lawmakers in the UK and the US have backed the protesting farmers in posts on social media.