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How the Farmers’ Protests in India can Shine a Light on America’s Democratic Future

Last year, as the pandemic claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and ravaged the economy, riots left cities across the U.S. burning. Between the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the intense social unrest that gripped the nation last summer, we’ve been forced to confront the hard issues in our political culture that have created a bleak outlook towards the future. It can be tempting to think that out of all nations, ours was hit hardest by 2020. But we’re not alone.

India is in the midst of a similar maelstrom, one that could potentially provide an example to the rest of the world as to how the will of the people can bring forth tangible change in a democratic nation.

The Indian government passed three farm bills last September that left 800 million farmers out to dry during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the farmers spoke up, they were beaten down. Sound familiar?

Indian farmers protesting. (People’s Archive of Rural India)

In response to the newly passed legislation that repealed protections on agricultural products, farmers from across India showed up in masses to protest what they saw as a slap in the face, and a step backward from the progress made during India’s “Green Revolution” of the 1960s. The Indian government reacted in a shamelessly authoritarian manner to these demonstrations, suspending dissenting Twitter accounts and even abusing sedition laws to imprison activists. This response wasn’t just ineffective in solving the issue, but it also furthered the divide between the Indian people and their government.

Farmers have been struggling more than ever due to the effects of modernization and climate change. Higher production costs and pandemic-related complications further compounded the economic pressure. In hopes of relieving this stress, the Indian government passed The Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, The Farmers’ Produce Trade & Commerce Act, and The Essential Commodities Act last year.

What worries farmers most about this legislation is that big corporations and industrial farms will now be free to circumvent government-run markets and obliterate the smaller farms by undercutting their sales. Indian farmers benefited from selling at the government markets with minimum prices that acted as a safety net, protecting them from domination by larger industries, famine, and economic decline. These protections were ripped from them, right when they needed them most.

Hence the protests. Tens of thousands of farmers have amassed in New Delhi, to protest the moves by the Indian government that have deregulated wholesale trading and taken away their security and to demand the return of their lost protections.

Narayan Gaikwad had his arm broken by the police. (People’s Archive of Rural India)

The Indian government has used aggressive tactics, including water cannons, batons, and tear gas against the protestors. Despite heavy criticism, the government has doubled down on their violent tactics by arresting citizens for “sedition,” such as a 22-year-old climate change activist named Disha Ravi, who simply shared a Google document that outlined peaceful ways to protest. The government has also requested the suspension of over 100 Twitter accounts linked to the protests. Despite their blatantly anti-democratic behavior, the government continues to deny any wrongdoing. Baijayant Panda, national vice president of the Bharatiya Janata Party was quoted in response to criticism that “these allegations are instigated by the losers of elections in order to try and maintain their own relevance,” effectively taking no responsibility and even denying the issues.

Despite being the world’s largest democracy, the Indian government’s actions in these last few months have been nothing short of abhorrent. When a democracy so brazenly acts in opposition to the ideals upon which it claims to stand, the very fabric of said democracy is at risk of being torn apart. Not only has the government betrayed the 800 million farmers that this legislation has directly impacted, but they have also betrayed 1 billion citizens that have watched as those sworn to uphold the nation’s values desecrate them.

Although the situation is dire, there is tremendous progress that stands to be gained. The beauty of a democracy is that it facilitates conflict in the name of progress. Challenges by protestors, activists, and citizens give way to uncertainty. In uncertainty, an opportunity is born to improve the rights and lives of the citizens whose will should be manifested in their representative’s political actions.

So long as the people of India continue to protest and demonstrate that the will of the people must be heard in the government, then the nation will boldly step forward into a new era of progress. And though our situation in the U.S. is still dire as well, we need not look further than to India to know that we are not alone in our fight for a better, more democratic world.