India’s farmer protests explained

Mohamed Eltayeb

Since November of 2020, tens of thousands of farmers in India have been protesting farmer’s reforms put in place by the government. 

Organized by unions, the farmers from the north have set camps on highways around New Delhi’s capital, determined to keep protesting for however long it takes against the new laws. Several rounds of negotiations between the government and farmers’ unions have not led to any agreements; unions have stated that the protests will continue until the new laws are permanently repealed. Here’s what you need to know about the situation.

The three new laws

The three new laws, initiated by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are intended to increase farmers’ profits and make India more independent. Yet, in reality, they will do the exact opposite.

The first law creates free, unregulated trade spaces, which allows corporate companies to operate. Farmers claim that the law will lead to the exploitation of agricultural workers and drive down market prices. The second law allows for prices to be settled between farmers and companies. Yet, there is little oversight in the agreements, leading to poor agreements for the farmers as farmers claim that the companies will dictate prices. The third law removes the limits on how much crop can be stored. Farmers claim that unlimited storage allows for individuals to hoard products and again dictate prices leading to unfair sales within the market.

The government believes that the news laws gives more freedom to farmers since they remove the middleman and allow farmers to sell independently for any price.

However long it takes

Since the passing of the law in September, farmers have been protesting in their own states, but in late November, that all changed. What may have been the single largest protest in human history took place as tens of thousands of farmers marched to New Delhi’s capital and make camp. In solidarity with the farmers, 250 million workers have gone on nationwide strikes.

Source: Twitter

In response to clashes between the police and farmers, the government has deployed paramilitaries forces in the capital. The government has used several tactics to disperse protesting farmers, from tear gas to water cannons and the suspension of internet services around New Delhi’s border to prevent communication between organizing protests.

Yet, Farmers and volunteers in solidarity with the movement are willing to continue protesting for however long it takes. Winter has passed, now preparations are being made to sit out during the scorching summer. Climate change has affected India’s weather harshly, as daytime temperatures averagely reach around 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). Organizers have started to create bamboo huts to stay cool and established water-cooling stations to stay hydrated.

Debt and Suicide

More than 55% of Indians make a living from farming. Yet, over the last few decades, a lack of investment and modernization over the agricultural sector has led to farmers’ instability in income. According to IndiaToday, the average Indian farming household earns just around 77,124 rupees in a year (about $1060), translating to 6,427 rupees a month (about $90). India’s farmers face consistent income insecurity as they struggle to make ends meet as living costs rise quickly and the agricultural sector’s economy shrinks.

52% of Indian farmers are in debt, which has contributed to high suicide rates among farmers. Over the last few years, more than 10,000 agricultural laborers have committed suicide over economic hardships.

Failed negotiations

India’s Supreme Court has put the three farm laws on hold in hopes of bringing farmer unions to the negotiation table and bring peace to the streets. Nonetheless, negotiations have been at a standstill, and protests have continued to happen in large numbers. Just recently, on International Women’s Day, thousands of female farmers held sit-ins, and some even went on a hunger strike in the capital.

Source: Reuters

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