18 February – Support the Farmers “Rail Roko” (Railway Blockade) across India 12 pm to 4pm (local time).
Millions of farmers strike against laws that put corporations in charge of land and food production
Watch 6-minute video why farmers are protesting
The movement to repeal Modi’s three Farm Acts is growing in strength since protests began in August 2020. The Acts will put farmers at the mercy of multinational and national corporations, turning India into a free trade area and ending state support to farmers and those on the lowest incomes. Prices of essential foods will increase and millions of people will starve. The strike is about the food security of 1.2 billion Indians.
In November 2020, 250 million workers all over India across every sector, including factory workers, dock workers, coal miners, healthcare workers, went on strike in support of farmers and agricultural workers – the largest strike in history. On 30 November, 300,000 farmers, including women, children and elders, marched on the capital New Delhi and set up camps on the outskirts with massive communal kitchens, laundry facilities and schools, blocking major highways into the city. The camps have been the base for other workers and organisers to meet and even join with the farmers, and to keep up the pressure on the government’s doorstep. Local communities bring water and food.
On 12 January, the Supreme Court suspended the laws for 18 months but refused to repeal them.
The camps are holding firm in the face of severe cold, violent repression from security forces. Some farmers have been killed. Many have been arrested and legal defence campaigns set up. Several state governments oppose the Acts. There is growing support internationally too.
Farmers are demanding:
- An immediate repeal of the three farm laws.
- A law to guarantee minimum support prices (MSP) according to the recommendation of National Commission on Farmers (Swaminathan Commission).
- Strengthening the public distribution system (PDS) for subsidised food for lowest income people.
Basic facts about agriculture
India is the leading exporter of basmati rice and the world’s second-largest producer of rice, wheat and other cereals, and second in the production of fruits and vegetables. India produces about 68% of the world’s spices. People in India are dependent on their own food production however unequally distributed.
70% of rural households depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
85% of all farmers are small farmers owning less than 2 hectares.
Women and children do 70% of all agricultural work and own 12.8% of the land even when widowed and running their husband’s farm alone.
Nearly 80% of all women workers work in agriculture. 81% of women land labourers and the majority of all casual and landless labourers are Dalit, Tribal or other discriminated communities.
Women in the strike and their demands
To join the Delhi camps, women set up a rotation system – when some leave to care for families and farm, others take their place “but the ten who leave bring 200 back in their stead.” Women are central to sustaining the protests, managing the men’s farm work and their own as well as the households, and ensuring a continuous supply of rations, blankets and other essentials to protest sites. Without their work “the men could not have camped on Delhi borders for more than a month”. In Punjab, women have organised 100 daily protests.
Thousands have lost sons and husbands to suicide due to debt.
Work is seasonal: “We are barely surviving. During the harvest and sowing seasons, we get some work and earn up to Rs. 270 [£2.70] a day.” They are not getting 100 days guaranteed work. They are demanding pensions and widows’ pensions. A grassroots women’s group in rural Chhattisgarh said: “On Women’s Farmers Day, Dalit, Tribal and other discriminated castes women marched together within a big march with men through the city as well as in the villages. Everyone chanted “Down with the Farm Laws!” There were also highways road blocks. Everyone watching cheered, including the media. Chhattisgarh is one of the states whose government opposes the three laws. The landless women work for big landowners. The men earn 200 rupees (about £2) a day, the women 150 rupees (£1.50).”
|The Farm Acts will: Remove government guaranteed prices for farmers’ crops – Minimum Support Price (MSP). While not all get it and it only applies to some crops, it is a lifeline for millions. The formula used to set MSP includes the cost of seeds, fertilizers, wages plus the value of “unpaid family labour” (a large proportion of which is done by women and children). Without MSP farmers will be forced to sell at throwaway prices to corporations, unpaid labour counting for less. Farmers are demanding that the MSP be applied to all crops and cover the full costs of production. Government agencies now buy essential foods at the guaranteed price, then sell it at a reduced price to the poorest families through the Public Distribution System. Without MSP and subsidies on basic foods, people will not be able to afford to eat. |
Allow traders to stockpile essential foods, including grains, pulses, potatoes, onions, edible oilseeds and oils, create false shortages and re-sell and/or export at higher prices.
Pave the way for corporate take-overs of land and food production. Monsanto (US) and BayerCropScience (Germany), already embedded in India, are frontrunners as well as Adani (India) with a record of environmental destruction, exploitation, tax dodging, oil spills, land grabs.
The laws also contain among the most sweeping exclusions of the right to legal recourse.
The State of Bihar brought in similar laws from 2006 which proved to be a disaster.
People across many communities are coming together in this mass movement. In 2020, Punjabi farmers supported the Shahen Bagh sit-ins in Delhi against the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act, led by women. Women farmers now say: “Shaheen Bagh is our inspiration.” For 16 February actions against the CAA, Punjabi farmers’ organisations met with Shaheen Bagh protesters again.
Farmers are already using sustainable methods which they want support for.
Many women have adopted chemical-free ‘community managed natural farming’, with support from Andhra Pradesh state. It is reducing debt, increasing crop yields and incomes, reversing land degradation and deforestation. 800,000 farmers stopped chemical use. Other states are taking it up. The National Coalition for Natural Farming works to “protect food and seed sovereignty, regenerate ecological balance, increase biodiversity, and augment nutritional security of individuals through inclusive, sustainable, and regenerative agroecological farming systems.”
Arundhati Roy, author and activist said: “[B]ig farmers, small farmers, landless labourers, all of them have come together because they realise, like did the people protesting the CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act] same time last year, that we are facing an existential crisis . . . the farmers are showing a great deal of wisdom and political spine.”
Global Women’s Strike Women of Colour, GWS