Millions of India’s farmers fight for their economic lives
As a bit of a comparison, the 2018 Distribution of Federal Payroll and Income Taxes shows 761,000 household taxpayers making up 4 tenths of 1% of all taxpayers having the highest income in the US. I am not sure if we can get it as finite as what India shows in wealth. With a population of ~1.3 billion, the wealth of 831 individuals amounts to 25% of the nation’s GDP. The 831 are calling the shots for farmers in India and the nation.
“Millions of India’s farmers are in a fight for their economic lives,” New Europe, Sonali Kolhatkar , December 21, 2020
Dale Coberly, Angry Bear Blog
India’s farmers are revolting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in a mass movement that has drawn international attention. The world’s largest democracy is witnessing a collective groundswell of protest as hundreds of thousands of farmers, largely from the states of Punjab and Haryana, have laid siege to the outskirts of the capital of New Delhi, determined to occupy the edges of the city until Modi reverses unpopular new laws that they say are anti-farmer.
About half of India’s workers depend on the agricultural industry, and the government has long had in place regulations to protect farmworkers, acting as a middleman between farmers and buyers of their produce. Now those protections have been upended. In September 2020, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pushed three deregulatory bills through Parliament amid chaos and even some opposition from within his own party.
Three laws now threaten the likelihood of farmers and subsequently the population’s food supply.
Amandeep Sandhu, author of Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines, has been closely following the farmers’ protests. In an interview, he explained to me that the first of the three bills scrapped the Essential Commodities Act, a 1955 law that stabilized food prices by preventing traders from hoarding supplies. According to Sandhu, “now traders can stockpile as much food as they want and can play the markets as they wish.” Two-thirds of India’s population of 1.3 billion rely on subsidized food rations, which Sandhu says are now endangered.
Another of the deregulatory laws would leave farmers to negotiate directly with buyers without government intervention to set basic minimum prices. Although this theoretically could result in farmers being able to demand higher prices, during years when there is a surplus of crops and subsequent plummeting prices, farmers could be financially destroyed. In short, the new laws are designed to subject hundreds of millions of poor farmers to the whims and demands of the market.
Modi’s third controversial law centers on contract farming and enables corporate buyers to directly hire small farmers to produce specific crops. But Sandhu explained that it also protects corporations from liabilities. “If a small farmer has entered into a contract with a corporation and the corporation reneges on the contract, the farmer cannot go to court.”
Even before these new laws were put in place, India’s farmers were being pushed to the brink. Millions are in debt as banks refuse to lend to the cash-strapped workers, driving them to illegal lenders that charge exorbitant interest rates. Farmer suicides in India have been on the rise, exacerbated by the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic this year.
According to Sandhu, “for many decades farmers have been protesting against the ‘green revolution’ model of agriculture,” which emphasizes an increase in productivity above all else including farmer livelihoods. Writing for CNN.com, Simran Jeet Singh and Gunisha Kaur explained, “Just as some medications are tested on humans of developing countries before being accepted in developed nations, the Green Revolution was an agricultural experiment tested out on the fields of Punjab.”
In further unleashing market forces on farmers through his new laws, Modi may have gone too far. “These very farmers are the BJP’s core constituency,” said Sandhu. “These are the ones who got the government elected in the first place.”
The Wealth of 831 of the richest Indian elites amounts to a quarter of the nation’s GDP.
Offering a stark contrast with struggling farmers are wealthy Indian elites who have seen their riches multiply each year. A 2018 report found that the wealth of the richest 831 Indians amounted to a quarter of India’s gross domestic product. Chief among them is Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, who has launched dozens of new businesses in the agricultural sector in just the last few months. India’s second wealthiest person is Gautam Adani, and both men are considered close political allies of Modi. Protesting farmers say Modi’s controversial farm bills were written to benefit the likes of Ambani and Adani. Earlier in the protests, farmers burned effigies of the prime minister and his billionaire buddies.
Modi has claimed that deregulation will bring wealth and prosperity to farmers and that objections to the laws are purely political. Because most of India’s left-wing parties and prominent political figures from the opposition Congress Party have expressed support for farmers, the BJP-led government claims that farmers are being misled into believing the laws are bad for their bottom line. But one farmer from Punjab told Al Jazeera, “There is no politics in it, we feel the laws are going to benefit corporates and not poor farmers like us.”
Modi has implored the farmers occupying the edges of Delhi to go home, claiming that the new laws are written to benefit them and are a “gift.” He has offered to amend the laws as a compromise, but the farmers are standing firm, saying nothing less than a complete repeal of the laws will be satisfactory. India’s former economic adviser Kaushik Basu agrees with them. Basu, who also served as chief economist of the World Bank and is currently a professor of economics at Cornell University, said the bills were “flawed” and “detrimental to farmers.” He explained, “Our agriculture regulation needs change but the new laws will end up serving corporate interests more than farmers.”
“New laws impact the control over what farmers grow, to whom they sell to, what prices can be relied on, and whether or not their crops will have buyers”
The new laws impact farmers’ control over what to grow, whom to sell to, what prices they can rely on, and whether or not their crops will have buyers—all presented in the form of an unsolicited “gift” from a government that for years has ignored their plight. It’s no wonder they are rebelling.
Solidarity with Indian farmers is high across the nation. In late November, nearly a dozen trade unions launched a massive general strike, bringing the nation to a standstill for a day. More than 250 million people are estimated to have participated, making it the world’s largest protest in history. The farmers called for a second strike a week later and remain on the outskirts of New Delhi, blocking five major highways and saying they aren’t leaving anytime soon. Sandhu shared that “farmers from Punjab and Haryana came with rations of their own for six months to one year and are willing to stick it out. The farmers who are coming from longer distances will be fed by those who are already there.”
Indian agriculture affects the rest of the world, with a large percentage of the global spice market originating from Indian farms. Exported staples such as rice and milk and even cotton used by the apparel industry could be impacted by the new laws.
Diaspora Indians are now speaking out. Thousands of Indian origin residents of Britain rallied in London, declaring, “We stand with farmers of Punjab.” Canadian Indians protested in various cities, with many saying they still had family who farmed in India. In California—home to a large population of Punjabi Indian Americans, many of whom are farmers themselves—a massive car rally in Silicon Valley called attention to the farmers’ demands. And in Seattle, Councilmember Kshama Sawant of the Socialist Alternative Party sponsored a resolution to express solidarity with Indian farmers.
For now, a stalemate remains with the government and farmers facing off against one another, refusing to back down. Sawant had perhaps the most eloquent framing of what’s at stake, saying, “Indian farmers are facing the same exploitation by the billionaire class that farmers and workers are facing worldwide.”
*This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
“As a bit of a comparison, the 2018 Distribution of Federal Payroll and Income Taxes shows 690,000 household taxpayers making up 4 tenths of 1% of all taxpayers having the highest income in the US…”
[To complete the comparison “With (India) a population of ~1.3 billion, the wealth of 831 individuals amounts to 25% of the nation’s GDP” then we might also want to know what percentage of GDP that 690,000 US households with incomes over $1M per year account for. In any case, the US is the richest per capita among the ten most populous nations in the world and India is the poorest among the ten most populous nations in the world. So, just $1M per year in household income is for the US little more than chump change. The folk that run the US make more than $1,000M per year and it is not a very large group either. They do not run the government nor make the laws, just support the campaigns of those that do as well as control the media, the lawyers, and pubic opinion in general.
Happy New Year.]
TOP 10 MOST POPULOUS COUNTRIES (July 1, 2020)
1. China 1,394,015,977 6. Nigeria 213,986,428
2. India 1,325,349,639 7. Brazil 212,041,332
3. United States 329,877,505 8. Bangladesh 162,532,538
4. Indonesia 272,856,400 9. Russia 142,588,206
5. Pakistan 233,431,156 10. Mexico 128,840,997…”
A better way to emphasize the problem is what it costs so many people that were already living on the razor’s edge of subsistence. You can see from the table at the link below that India does not have that terribly high a Gini index at the 95th from worst position in the table just behind Australia tied for 93/94. India’s relative equality and moderately low Gini index is the result of almost every resident of India being dirt poor. Inequality is much less of a problem when everyone has more than enough to eat. So, don’t bury the lead behind irrelevant stats.
“…You can see from the table at the link below…”
first, i did not write the article, so i’m not sure my name should have been at the top. i suppose the “link” will take you to the original source. my old school ways would have printed the name of the source so you don’t have to follow a link to find it.
second, as for burying the lede … for me the “lede” is the method and effectiveness of the protest, and what we can learn from it.
i am not much of a fan of “statistics” [therefore do not send to know
for whom the bell tolls. it tolls for thee.]
rereading the article i see no statistics burying the lede. rereading the comments i see lots of statistics burying… something.
I was commenting in reference to the preface, not the actual article by Sonali Kolhatkar.
Ron. i don’t know who wrote that preface. i missed the brackets in your comment.
sometimes when i look back at my own comments I can see why people might not understand them.
good thing we can keep talking and straighten [some of] these things out.
“…good thing we can keep talking…”
[Yep, we go with our strengths such as they are.]
if you mean by our strengths the fact that AB allows conversations that are capable of resolving misunderstandings, because the commenters are intelligent enough to be aware of the possibilities of misunderstanding and being misunderstood, i would agree with you.
wa just reading comments on another web site and it occured to me there was not much possibilitiy of being misunderstood, or corrcting misunderstanding there. they were just shouting at each other .. mostly convoluted distortions of truth provided by highly paid non partisan liars.
but our strengths, such as they are, don’t appear likely to turn the masses from mob to thoughtful citizens of a democracy.
scylla and charybdis.
Sure, pursuit of the dialectic has been practically a lifelong odyssey for me, at least since the 7th grade.