The Platform

Indian farmer protesting in Delhi in 2020. (Rohit Bhakar/Shutterstock)

Farmers across India and Europe have long felt abused and neglected by their respective governments.

As waves of protest sweep across the agricultural heartlands of India and Europe, the reasons for their upheaval are as varied as their landscape yet bound by a common thread of existential threat. In India, a vast congregation of Sikh farmers, primarily from the flourishing yet troubled states of Punjab and Haryana, stand in staunch opposition. Since the previous September, they have been steadfast against a slew of agricultural laws that they believe threaten the very fabric of their livelihood. Parallel to this, in Europe, farmers have transformed thoroughfares into channels of dissent, congesting ports with their tractors, and marking the edifices of power with the stain of hurled eggs, all manifestations of their litany of demands. What then is the catalyst for these continental upheavals, and how have the governing forces responded?

The standoff in India resonates with echoes of historic sieges, as police forces blockade intrastate borders, particularly between Haryana and Delhi, only to be met by farmers’ makeshift battlements of canvas and resolve. Europe’s landscape, in its turn, is also marred by barricades, not of stone, but of grievances; farmers there block highways and borders, a physical testament to their unvoiced displeasures.

Yet, within the folds of these movements, there lies a stark dichotomy. Europe’s agricultural insurrection seems to flow with a right-wing undercurrent, while in India, an equally formidable wave of resistance confronts the right-wing, Hindu nationalist government’s intentions. The latter’s blueprint for centralizing authority, handing over the reins of food production, transport, and retail to preferred agribusiness conglomerates, has met with unyielding opposition from the collective might of Indian farmers. This international brigade of agrarians stands united, not merely against the prospect of personal loss but against a world they perceive to be indifferent to their plight, a world where the privilege of free movement seems to outweigh the sanctity of age-old, agrarian traditions.

In the granaries of India, farm union leaders seek concrete assurances, demanding state-backed guarantees for a minimum purchase price for their produce. The government’s declaration of support prices for a myriad of crops rings hollow when state agencies only purchase rice and wheat at these designated prices, benefiting a meager slice of the farmer population. After the prolonged protests, the longest India has witnessed, led to the repeal of the contested farm laws, the government’s proposal to convene a committee to ensure fair prices for all crops has yet to materialize, fueling discontent and mistrust. The broader economic narrative sketches a picture of an agricultural sector advancing at a glacial pace compared to its industrial counterparts, even as farm lending soars, paradoxically heightening the burden of debt upon the very shoulders that till the soil.

Across the continent, the European farmers’ protest unfolds its own narrative of diversity and commonality. The shared struggle against urban-centric policymaking contrasts with the distinctive regional challenges: Eastern European farmers lament the deluge of duty-free imports from Ukraine, while Western European farmers grapple with bureaucratic inertia and climate catastrophes that decimate crops and herds alike.

Compounding these tribulations is the specter of climate change, promising parched fields and vanishing livelihoods, should global temperatures continue their ominous ascent.

In stark contrast to the Indian government’s strategy of restraint and delay, European governments have engaged in a flurry of policy-making and concessions in response to the clamor of the countryside. The European Union’s tactical retreat from ambitious emissions targets, its suspension of pesticide regulations, and the delay in mandates for land set-asides for biodiversity, though controversial, are acknowledgments of the agricultural turmoil. France has notably tailored its response with a blend of financial support and environmental foresight, crafting a nuanced approach that seeks to balance traditional agricultural practices with the imperative of environmental sustainability.

This panorama of protest, spanning India and Europe, underscores the intricate tapestry of political, economic, and environmental strands that constitute the current agricultural milieu. Indian farmers’ clamor for legislative support and debt relief echoes against a backdrop of economic disparity and agrarian distress. European farmers’ grievances, ranging from market access to regulatory burdens and environmental constraints, reflect the challenges of a globalized agricultural framework. The divergent responses of governments, varying from the tentative to the proactive, illuminate the political landscapes and the degrees of state responsiveness to agrarian advocacy. While the contrasts in policy and approach are marked, they converge on a pivotal point: the imperative need for holistic agricultural policies that advocate for the rights of farmers, ensure fair market practices, and sustain the agricultural traditions that are vital to our collective existence.

Arth Agarwal is a final-year undergraduate student and Research Intern at the Centre for Security Studies, JSIA. He is a recipient of the Emile Boutmy Scholarship (Issued by Sciences Po) and has written about leadership dynamics in the Global South and the meteoric rise of China.