Following a year of deadly protest action in which 700 farmers lost their lives, hunger strikes and suspended mobile internet services, political laws that would have placed Indian farmers at the mercy of big agribusinesses have been repealed.
This comes after a surprise U-turn by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose government had insisted that the laws would empower farmers and boost growth by attracting private investment.
The three new bills, described as anti-farmer “black bills”, would have loosened the rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce, letting farmers sell directly to private buyers instead of government-controlled markets where they get a minimum guaranteed price.
But on Monday, 29 November 2021, the Indian government passed a bill to cancel the contentious laws. The 2021 Farm Laws Repeal Bill now awaits the sign-off by President Ram Nath Kovind.
Was this an election strategy?
Farmer unions in the country have described it as a victory for farmers.
Yet Harinder Happy, spokesman for Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a coalition of more than 40 farmers’ unions, told Al Jazeera that he was disappointed that no discussion on the controversial laws ever took place in parliament.
“The way [farm laws] were brought without any discussion with opposition parties or farmers last year, the same way they have been repealed now, which is not good,” Happy said.
It is expected that farmers will not call off their protest and that they will push for other demands, including minimum support prices (MSPs) for crops and compensation for the families of hundreds of farmers who had died during the protests.
Modi’s reversal came ahead of important elections for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, both home to a large number of farmers.
For this reason, Vishavjot Mann, who joined a weekend rally for agricultural workers in Mumbai, told the AFP news agency that she does not think that the Indian government has any sympathy for its farmers.
“The government has just announced they will repeal the laws, not because they think that they were wrong but because they understand that these protests will hamper their election results.”Vishavjot Mann, participant in a rally for agricultural workers
Farmers’ unions say at least nine farmers died by suicide among a total of nearly 700 deaths, leaving families distraught and in debt.
In the year-long protest, data compiled by Samyukt Kisan Morcha (United Farmers Front or SKM), nearly 700 farmers have died in the stir as they weathered bone-chilling cold, record rains, smog and heat.
Al Jazeera, however, reports that Modi’s government claims that there is no record of the farmers’ deaths – claims which have lead to further anger and demands of compensation to the families of the deceased. Farmers are calling them “shaheed” (martyrs).
The SKM is also demanding land to be allotted for the construction of a martyrs’ memorial at Singhu.
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