The Repeal of Indian Farms Laws is Proof of the Value of Dissent
The recent repealing of the three farm bills after year long protests was a welcome reminder of the importance of dissent. However, the farmers did not stop protesting right away. Instead, they continued to protest to see their other demands met. They have now called off the protests, after the government agreed to ensure minimum support pricing and withdrawal of police cases against farmers. The farmers have also made it clear that if the government does not act on these assurances, they will resume protests. This is a big victory for democracy, in a country where, in recent times, people who dare to dissent are constantly being put in jail.
The three laws would not have been repealed without people coming together globally. Indian students, volunteers and activists joined the farmers and helped to garner attention. The Indian diaspora and other allies held rallies in support across the world. Punjabi singers raised the morale of protestors by singing songs of resistance, and popular singers Jazzy B and Diljith Dosanjh joined protesting farmers, highlighting the importance of celebrities speaking up -- something which most Indian celebrities have not done. Indian women also made a big contribution. Harinder Kaur, a state leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, said, “The fact that some of these women have not had proper education or are burdened by household chores, but still managed to sit through this protest and fight for justice to the farming community says a lot. I congratulate each one of them.”
Dalit farm labourers rallied at Delhi’s borders as well, even though they have to deal with the worst agricultural and societal circumstances, truly emphasising “Kisan-Mazdoor ekta” or “farmer-farm labourer unity”. Harcharan Singh was a 65-year-old farm labourer, who, despite having an accident on October 1, refused to leave the protests and go home. His son, Makhan Singh, said, “He breathed his last at the Tikri border on November 17. His only wish was to either get the farm laws repealed or die as a martyr in Tikri.”
Regrettably, Mr. Modi has failed to apologize for or even address the over 700 deaths of protesting farmers during the long protests. He also failed to address the cases filed against protestors over various charges, or the fact that his government has tried to discredit protestors by painting the Sikh farmers as Khalistanis and terrorists. Mr. Modi himself has advocated for MSP when he was chief minister of Gujarat, even writing to the prime minister of the time, Manmohan Singh, for the same. In 2014, before becoming prime minister, he promised high MSPs to farmers, and won their votes. However, the results of his promises are yet to be seen.
Mr. Modi claimed that the farm laws were passed after parliamentary debate, though the laws were undemocratically steamrolled through parliament, with the opposition not being allowed to vote, and no consultation of stakeholders taking place. The issue with the farm laws was not merely that they would be incredibly harmful towards farmers, -- though that would be bad enough -- it was also that the Modi government did not create any room for different parties to debate and have dialogue on these laws and decide what would be best. If they had, perhaps, the farmers wouldn’t have had to protest. The irony is, even after the mess that was created because of the lack of consultation on the farm bills, the Modi government still decided to skip consultation on 17 bills scheduled for the winter session of parliament.
Democracy in India has been badly wounded since 2014, and it is likely that these laws are only being repealed now due to the upcoming elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. However, it still remains an important example of the difference that can be made when people resist. After all, the Modi government backtracking is a rare event and exposes a crack in the carefully crafted strongman image of Mr. Modi. In a recent article, titled Why the Farmers’ Protest Has the Potential to Challenge BJP’s Hindutva Politics, the author argues, “What appears to be a lasting irritant for the RSS-BJP combine is that the farmers’ movement has now assumed a syncretic character, uniting diverse communities.”
Throughout history, we have seen how people have come together and dissented to make a difference. Whether it was Indian freedom fighters, or the Bihar movement of 1974 -- which ultimately led to overthrowing the Indira Gandhi government -- or the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, time and time again, people have successfully fought against injustices. Without dissent, humans would never have had any progress (it is ironic then, that Mr. Modi has promised “sabka vikas” or “progress for everyone” when his government – which has shown authoritarian tendencies – is obsessed with crushing dissent).
The farmers’ persistent peaceful protests epitomise democracy’s core values and shine some light during a dark time in Indian history. They will always be remembered as a crucial moment of dissent.