After over a year of protesting, on Nov. 19, the Indian government repealed three controversial agriculture laws. These laws, which were passed in Sept. 2020, benefitted large corporations at the cost of farmers’ livelihood as it allowed large corporations to control and lower prices. The laws also provided minimum selling prices for certain crops; however, most of the crops included on the list are not sold by the majority of farmers, further benefiting a few farmers over the vast majority. Due to these laws, protests occurred all over India, especially in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab as well as in the capital city of New Delhi.
The repeal of these three laws marks a big win for farmers in India — which is certainly something that must be celebrated. However, the agricultural industry in India is still far from perfect — this is not something that can be ignored solely because Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally chose to listen to the concerns of the farmers affected by these agricultural laws.
Currently, many farmers in India are continuing to protest for guaranteed prices for crops so farmers will not be paid less than the set price for agricultural goods. Guaranteed prices for crops would ensure that farmers across the nation have a more stable, static income.
About 58% of India’s total population relies on agriculture as a primary source of income. However, the average monthly income of farmers in India is less than the nationwide average salary. In addition, farmers who control an even smaller plot of land are at an even greater loss as, according to economist Devinder Sharma, many of these farmers do not have enough land to make a profit at all.
The agricultural industry in India is clearly in dire need of change, including an increase in support from the government. Farmers currently do not have the support they need to sustain themselves or their families as for many, farming does not provide a stable or even profitable income. Although repealing the three farm laws is a big win and a step in the right direction, it is the bare minimum of what can be done to support the farmers in India.
A CNN article quoted Rakesh Tikait, national spokesperson of the farmers’ body Bhartiya Kisan Union, which outlined how the Indian government can support farmers.
“They can support us with electricity, with providing fertilizers, with other equipment used in agriculture. They can help us increase the rate of crops,” Tikait said in the article. “The government can support us by providing medical, health benefits to those in villages, by providing their children with education.”
In addition to these proposed changes helping farm yields, thus giving farmers a more stable, higher income, these changes will significantly improve the mental health of farmers across the nation. Tens of thousands of farmers in India who were unable to subsist on their income and buy equipment they needed to continue farming committed suicide. Between 2001 and 2017, 20,000 farmers the state of Maharashtra committed suicide making it known as the “epicenter” of the suicide crisis. Studies have shown that the socioeconomic stress farmers face in India has contributed greatly to the high rates of farmer suicides across the nation.
So far, Modi’s government has — rather unsurprisingly — hurt farmers across India, aside from repealing these three agricultural laws. In November 2016, the Indian government’s demonetization of the 500- and 1,000-rupee notes immensely hurt the agricultural industry as it is heavily run by cash transactions.
Farmers of certain crops, such as onions, were majorly affected by the demonetization of these rupee notes. In 2018, in Maharashtra, the price of onions had dropped about 80% due to such a large surplus. Many farmers, not wanting to sell the onions at such a heavy loss, waited in hopes that the price would go up again. These prices did not rise again and many of the onions rotted, rendering them completely worthless.
Modi and his government’s blatant disregard for farmers across India cannot be ignored following their repeal of the agricultural laws on Nov. 19. Yes, the fact that these laws have been repealed is a very good thing, but the reality is that they should never have been put in place as they were immensely detrimental to farmers.
Instead, what these laws and the subsequent protests have brought to light possibly more so than ever before is that the agricultural industry in India is in dire need of reform and the Indian government is not doing nearly enough to help the farmers. Farmers in India need more support in terms of crop prices, related agricultural necessities such as electricity and fertilizers as well as more support for their mental and physical health. The government’s inaction cannot be forgotten or taken lightly — the farmers in India will continue to protest until the government finally recognizes and listens to their concerns.