Tens of thousands of farmers marched into India’s bustling capital. They drove trucks and trailers into the already packed streets of New Delhi. They camped out for weeks, braving chilly temperatures and risks of illness during the pandemic.
The farmers are protesting against new agricultural laws. Men and women blocked half a dozen highways outside New Delhi to make their point. Even a group of grandmothers joined the protest.
Nearly 60% of India’s population farms for a living. Farmers sell their crops at government-controlled markets. The government guarantees the prices. That means that farmers know that they will get at least a minimum price for their harvest.
Parliament approved three new laws in September 2020. The laws encourage farmers to sell directly to companies. Under the new laws, the government will be less of a middle man.
The government says the laws will help farmers. They will have more opportunities to sell their produce to private companies. They will have more control over the pricing.
“Through these agricultural reforms, we have given better options to the farmers,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi says.
But protesters have become dependent on the government’s promised pricing. They fear the government will stop buying crops at the minimums it has guaranteed. Corporations can then push prices down. Family-owned farms may go out of business.
Ever since the Fall into sin, farming has been difficult even in the best of times. (Genesis 3:17-18) But the pandemic and a new recession in India make farmers feel especially vulnerable.
The government said it is willing to pledge to keep guaranteed prices. But protest leaders rejected the offer to change some parts of the laws. They say they won’t leave New Delhi until all the laws are repealed.
On January 12, 2021, India’s Supreme Court temporarily stopped the laws. After hearing petitions filed by the farmers, the Supreme Court says the laws were passed without enough consultation. The court was also disappointed with the way talks were proceeding between the government and farmers.
But on January 26, thousands of protesters drove tractors into New Delhi. They broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort, where they waved farm union and religious flags. The flag-waving was symbolic. Prime ministers annually hoist the national flag there to mark the country’s independence. The farmers insist on a complete repeal.
India’s farmers are often called “annadatta,” or “providers.” They once produced a third of India’s gross domestic product. (That is the total value of goods produced and services provided during one year for a nation.) But the farmers’ economic power has weakened over the last 30 years. Now their crops count for only 15% of the country’s $2.9 trillion economy.