By: Maler Suresh
A young climate activist, Disha Ravi, has been arrested by the Indian government over her farmers’ protest “toolkit”, a document which Prem Nath, joint commissioner of Delhi police, claims to have been created with the aim of creating “misinformation and disaffection against the lawfully elected government.” This “toolkit” is a document listing resources and ways in which the people in India can take action in support of the farmers’ protests. It instructs people to call government representatives, share solidarity hashtags on social media, participate in rallies, and sign petitions. Greta Thunberg, a famous young climate activist, tweeted a link to the toolkit on February 4th, giving it a lot of visibility. The same day, the Delhi police launched a criminal investigation into the toolkit’s creators, looking to charge them with sedition, provoking or inciting a riot, and criminal conspiracy. The police have claimed that this document contains plans for a repeat demonstration of the violence that occurred over the farmers’ protests on January 26th.
Beginning in November, thousands of farmers have camped outside of India’s capital, New Delhi, threatening to enter if new agricultural laws passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi are not repealed. The new laws, passed in September, are Modi’s attempt to minimize the government’s role in agriculture and open up Indian markets for more private investors. The government believes that these new laws would allow farmers to sell directly to buyers and bring economic growth. However, Indian farmers fear that these laws, which would take away the already inadequate government support offered to farmers, would leave them at the mercy of corporations. The previous government regulations guaranteed minimum prices for certain essential crops, creating a stable guide for farmers to make decisions from for the next crop cycle. These new laws remove this guaranteed minimum price and allow farmers to sell their goods to anyone for any price, a system which ultimately favors big companies who can drive down prices. The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, with people across the country showing their support through labor and hunger strikes, but the Indian government has faced criticism for how it is handling protestors near the capital. Particularly on January 26th, which marks India’s Republic Day. Thousands of peaceful protestors came into New Delhi, but some farmers broke from the group and used tractors to dismantle police barricades. The police entered the crowd with tear gas and assault rifles, using their batons to push protestors back. The farmers ended up breaching the Red Fort, an iconic palace that used to be the residence of the Mughal rulers in India.
Hundreds of criticisms appeared across social media for the government’s conduct throughout the protests, and 16 opposition parties to Modi’s BJP Party issued a joint statement accusing the BJP of being “arrogant, adamant, and undemocratic in their response.” The Indian government temporarily suspended internet services in places that have been hubs of protest across India, citing the need to maintain public safety, and they pressured Twitter into taking down accounts that criticized the government and Prime Minister Modi by issuing a notice of noncompliance that put Twitter’s local employees in danger of spending up to seven years in prison.
Currently, the camps around New Delhi remain, and there has been little progress in negotiations. Indian officials suggested an amendment to the laws in December that would allow state governments to impose fees on private firms, but the leaders of more than 30 farmers’ unions involved in negotiations have rejected this proposal, claiming that these government efforts have been “insincere.” In mid-January India’s Supreme Court announced that it was willing to suspend the laws for 12-18 months so that farmers’ unions might “come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith” in search of a long-term compromise. However, some protestors would like to see the laws fully repealed.
Not only do these protests affect Modi, who needs farmers’ votes in the next general election in 2024, but they have an impact on a large portion of the Indian population. With agriculture being the primary source of livelihood for 58% of India’s residents, farmers are the biggest group of voters in the country, making these laws a central issue.