Why are farmers protesting?
Since November of 2020, thousands of farmers have been camped outside of New Delhi
to protest new agricultural policies enacted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, living in communal tent cities and threatening to enter the capital if the laws are not repealed. These laws would decrease the role of the government in agriculture, broadening the space for private investors. While Prime Minister Modi ensures that such policies would bring growth to the country through freeing farmers from government regulation and increasing private investment, farmers argue that the removal of state protections, which are already inadequate as they stand now, would leave farmers vulnerable to being overrun by large corporations. The government’s involvement in the agriculture industry has been a long withstanding support to farmers, with it having played a crucial role in ending the Indian hunger crisis of the 1960s. With farmers barely managing financially as is, these new laws will likely bring a complete elimination of protections crucial to their economic success, including one that guarantees a minimum price for essential crops.
Why is all of this happening?
Modi is currently aiming to nearly double India’s economy by the year 2024, and a key step to doing so has been through the deregulation of economic sectors, as he believes that having the government play such a vital role in industry is unsustainable for the country’s future. Farmers, on the other hand, contend that this minimization will solely weaken the agricultural sector, leaving them with little chance for upward socioeconomic mobility or a change in livelihood. Due to the pandemic, personal economic reliance on the agricultural industry has skyrocketed, with millions of laborers being forced to return to their farming villages and leave behind their urban jobs. While farmers continue to protest these laws, the Indian government has retaliated with violence and silencing protests and activists like Disha Ravi. Nonetheless, farmers have refused to stand down, seeking to bring change within India and spread global awareness of their labor inequalities and unjust government.
What happened to Disha Ravi?
On February 12, 21-year-old climate activist and founder of Fridays For Future India Disha Ravi was arrested by police at her home in Bengaluru, India. Amidst the farmer’s protests, Ravi had shared a Farmers' Protest Toolkit on Google Docs via her Twitter account. This toolkit, previously tweeted by Greta Thunberg as a symbol of solidarity with the farmers, was intended to serve as a resource of coordination, organization, and information for peaceful protestors, providing talking points, contact information, etc. However, Ravi was charged with sedition under India's Anti-terrorism Act, though all she had done was simply share on social media. Officials claimed that the toolkit helped incite violence during what was supposed to be another peaceful protest in New Delhi this past January. The Delhi police’s investigation went so far as to say that the document was distributed with the meticulous goal of creating unrest. In the wake of Ravi’s arrest, countless fellow activists from across the globe started a petition to free her from prison, as well as demand justice for others like her who have been silenced by the Indian government since the start of the protests in November. Many supporters feared she was even at risk of being tortured or sexually assaulted. However, on Tuesday, February 22, Ravi was granted bail after her court case. Ravi, fearless even in the face of government prosecution, expressed in court, “If highlighting farmers’ protest globally is sedition, I am better in jail.” Judge Dharmender Rana of Delhi Sessions court stated that there was no concrete reason to detain Ravi. Judge Rana further questioned the logic behind her prosecution, as there was no real connection between the toolkit and the violence that had erupted. Now, many are accusing the government of utilizing law enforcement to target and silence political opponents as the strength and numbers of the protest continue to grow.