Suicides Continue During India Protest
(Cover photo via the NY Times: "Farmers trying to dismantle barricades during the Republic Day protest on Tuesday. Credit...Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters") (NY Times)
On January 21st 2021, Jai Bhagwan (age 42), committed suicide near the Tikri border by consuming Sulphas tablets during an ongoing protest near New Delhi, India. Bhagwan was a resident of Pakasma village in the Rohtak district of Haryana, and in his lingering suicide note, he wrote about the current fight to protect Indian farmer’s rights from three new agriculture bills signed by the government, saying “The government says it is a matter of only two to three states, but farmers from all over the country are protesting against the laws. Sadly, it is not a movement now, but a fight of issues. The talks between the farmers and the Centre also remain deadlock.” (https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2021/jan/21/farmer-dies-by-suicide-at-delhis-tikri-border-after-consuming-poison-2253020.html). The protests have escalated since the bill signings in late September, with major marches to the capital city of New Delhi following in late November, and as we leave the month of January, violence has disrupted between the stoic farmers and paramilitary troops armed with water cannons and tear gas guns. Mental health counselors have been dispersed to the protest sites and have reported that farmers are burdened with extreme hypertension and are afraid of losing their homes and their families. Sanya Kataria, a clinical psychologist, reports that “the farmers are not being heard so there is frustration and aggression,” also adding that her patient’s keep repeating “bechaini si ho rahi hai,” -We are feeling anxious. (https://scroll.in/article/983964/they-went-to-protest-against-the-farm-laws-but-died-at-the-delhi-border)
Five major highways surrounding New Delhi are now filled with protester camps fighting their way through police since November 27 2020, and thousands of Indians from the northern regions of the country are now settled within the state's borders. The farmers have rations of food with cooking equipment and shelter supplies on site, and have propped up microphones and stages to keep their mission potent. The two month peaceful protest ended on January 26, when farmers broke through police barricades made up of trucks and busses by mobilizing 10,000 tractors and protestors on horses to overtake one of India's most important, 17th century landmarks, “The Red Fort.” The protesters carried ceremonial swords, ropes and sticks, overwhelming the police with their strength in numbers, all while India was currently celebrating ‘Republic Day,’ a holiday that exemplifies the country's strength in military and culture, with the attendance of important leaders. The casualties consisted of 300 injured police officers, one protester reportedly killed by his own tractor and many farmers bruised and bloodied as people around the world watched on T.V with shock.
Image via Vox "Farmers stand on a tractor parked on a road leading to Delhi on February 6, 2020.Mayank Makhija/NurPhoto/Getty Images" (Vox)
What Farmers are Fighting Against
CNN reports that the three bills were approved in early September, rushed through the parliament process through voice vote, but was dissolved into a shouting contest with most votes being overruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So what are the bills?
Bill number 1: The Famers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price and Farm Services 2020. The primary purpose of this act is to form contracts between privatized businesses and farmers, and provides companies a legal framework for agricultural remuneration, transportation and methodology, but protesters are weary that corporate investors would simply dominate production and exploit farmers through legal clauses.
Bill number 2: The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill 2020. This bill takes Agricultural produce trade outside of India's state mandated restrictions, allowing food to be sold apart from current Mandis (food markets) and APMC yards (Warehouses/Cold Storages), allowing big farms to trade without getting APMC approval. However, this bill cuts ties between government and farmers, releasing all businesses into the free market and cutting farmers off from government subsidies or procurement in case of low/fluctuating market demands.
Bill number 3: The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020. This act removes certain products from a government essential list, which is predicted to boost farmer revenue and ultimately raise the retail price of these non-essential items. The bill specifies that non-perishable items (cereles, oils, etc) can only be deemed essential if the market price rises 50%, and perishable items (potatoes, onions, etc) will be essential if the market price rises 100%; this can lead to hoarding, black market activity and ultimately, raises food prices for everyone.
The Hand that Feeds You
More than 50% of the population in India work in the agriculture sector, and in 2019 at least 10,281 citizens ended their lives, mostly due to bankruptcy and debt. The protest continues overseas by Punjab relatives and families in the United States, the UK, Canada and Australia, demonstrating their frustration outside of resident embassies; since december 2020, over 12 million international Indian protesters have answered the call to cause. Non-resident Indians have been helping protesters by sending money, arranging transportation and sending rations for the farmers camping outside of New Delhi. Influencers like Rihanna and Gretta Thumberg have reached out to social media to show support for these protesters, but the government has banned more than 250 twitter accounts, blaming specific tweets and hashtags as a "motivated campaign to abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds." Since the beginning of the protest, 60 farmers have died from illness, suicide and the blistering cold, but yet, a protester named Kuldeep Singh forebodes that "We will sit here for the next three years. We will sit till the elections, till the laws are scrapped." (https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/05/asia/indian-farmers-camp-dst-intl-hnk/index.html)