The Indian farmers’ protest 2020–2021 is an ongoing protest against the three farm laws. The Parliament of India passed the three farm bills in the year 2020 to introduce reforms in the agriculture sector. But farmers claim that these bills are ‘corporate-friendly’ and call them ‘anti-farm bills’. To oppose these bills, tens of thousands of farmers have organised strikes on the outskirts of Delhi since November. They rejected the government’s offer to put the laws on hold demanding that the laws should be revoked. Recently, the peaceful protest of farmers turned violent in Delhi on 26th of January, the Republic Day of India during the tractor march by farmers. This incidence gave a different turn to this protest.
Farm Bill 2020 Protest in a Glimpse
Soon after the government introduced the new farm bills last year, unions of farmers began holding local protests in most parts of Punjab. After two months of protests, farmers from Punjab and Haryana with their union’s head started a movement named ‘Dilli Chalo’. When the farmers reached New Delhi, state police attacked them with water cannons, tear gas shells and batons. In the last week of November 2020, farmers started a nationwide protest in which approximately 250 million people took place to support the farmers. On 30 November, a report estimated that around 200,000 to 300,000 farmers were converging at various border points on the way to Delhi.
So far eleven rounds of talks have taken place between the central government and farmers unions from October 2020 to January 2021. But farm unions considered all these meetings inconclusive. Farmer unions and their representatives have demanded that the central government should take back the laws or pass a new law facilitating the MSP. Supreme Court of India stayed the implementation of the farm laws in an order in January 2021. However, farmers continued with their protests even after this judgment as they demand the repeal of the controversial laws.
2021 Farmers’ tractor parade on Republic day
After several months of peaceful protest of farmers against farm bills 2020-2021, the government granted permission to the farmers for the tractor rally on 26th of January. On the same day, Samyukt Kisan Morcha—a United Front of farmers of India, spearheaded a parade with tractors in Delhi. India celebrates its Republic Day on 26th January every year. On the iconic day in 1950, India became a republic and established a democratic rule in the nation. Since then, every year India celebrates this day with full enthusiasm by holding a parade in Delhi.
The farmers wanted to go ahead with their protest against the farm bills, so they agreed with the police on the route of their planned rally. However, government only allowed to run their tractor rally after the annual Republic Day celebrations. The tractor parade was scheduled to get started from the Ghazipur, Singhu and Tikri border points of Delhi.
Blunder at Red Fort during the tractor march:
In the morning around 8:30 am, rather than the agreed time of noon, the protestors began the parade from Singhu border and started marching towards Central Delhi. The route on which they were heading to was not mentioned in the schedule. So, the protestors collided with the police while they were marching towards Central Delhi. Some protesters ran riot on roads of Delhi, broke barricades, damaged buses, flashed swords and attempted to ram into resisting police personnel. Many of the protestors stormed in the Red Fort, where they hoisted Nishan Sahib (Sikh religious flag) and farmer union’s flag. By the end of the day, during the violent clashes, many police personnel and farmers were left injured and one protester died as he was attempting to break the barricades with his tractor.
How did the violence start during tractor parade?
The police administration initially had opposed the planned rally by farmers, but later they granted the permission on the condition that it would not interrupt the Republic Day parade. Delhi police also permitted specific routes for the tractor march but when protestors changed the planned way, the police started to stop them. Convoys of tractors broke through police barricades and converged at the city centre. This marked the start of violence and riots between protestors and police personnel.
Some of the most violent clashes took place near the ITO metro station junction. Some protestors also attacked police with sticks and metal bars while the officers used tear gas and batons. Police said they had removed protesters from the complex. But one farmer union leader accused the police of provoking the violence. Some farmers also blamed the government about the chaos that took place during rally. Following this most farmers’ leaders said they would not call off their protests.
Reactions to the Red Fort violence
Initially, violence at Red Fort during the tractor march on Republic Day drew criticism from everywhere. Specially, the hoisting of the religious flag at Red Fort next to Indian Flag was referred to as an insult to the nation and Indian Tricolor by media as well as among the masses. However, some people also questioned the role of Delhi Police for the incident. On a day like Republic Day, government deploys high security all over the national capital. So, opposition as well as media raises a concern that around the Red Fort, how people were allowed to attack.
In the last few weeks, the farmers’ movement against the farm bills has seen many ups and downs. After the 26th January fiasco, it seemed that the movement will lose its strength. But, the emotional outburst of Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait in front of media has turned the tables again in favour of the protests. Thousands of farmers from Western UP, Haryana and Punjab joined the movement following new developments and decided to organise hunger strike on January 30. Many opposition parties have also come in the support of the farmers. the heads of farm unions also organised Kisan Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar in support of farmers’ protests where people gathered in large numbers to show their support to the movement.
Recent controversies related to Farmers’ protest
- Multiple police cases have been filed in states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. Some residential people also filed cases against six journalists including India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai. People accused them of “misreporting” and “spreading disharmony” when a tractor rally by farmers turned violent on Republic Day. All of them faced charges against sedition, criminal conspiracy including promoting enmity under the Indian Penal Code.
- Another problem started when police did not allow the movement of water tanker at the protest site in Ghazipur. A confrontation was building up at the Ghazipur Border even as frequent power cuts were witnessed at the protest site. This fueled the anger of the farmer leaders of other cities including Meerut, Baghpat, Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Moradabad and Bulandshahr. Farmers from all these areas thronged the UP Gate to join the protest.
- When the outburst of Rakesh Tikait went viral, more people headed towards the Singhu, Ghazipur, and Tikri borders to join the farmers’ protest. So, to maintain public safety and averting public emergency, the Union Home Ministry issued an order. In the order Ministry temporarily suspended the internet services. The ministry suspended the services at the three protest sites and its adjoining areas. However, the Haryana government has already suspended mobile internet and SMS services in 14 districts. Now, the state government allowed only voice calls in 17 of the 22 districts.
- The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments especially by the celebrities give this protest a new turn. The pop singer Rihanna has provoked the ire of the Indian government by her tweet to her 101 million followers. Her tweet for support to farmers’ protest sent her name to the top of social media trends in India. Hours after the singer’s tweet, climate activist Greta Thunberg and the US vice president’s niece Meena Harris also tweeted to support the farmers. Rihanna’s tweet also prompted responses from Amit Shah, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and many more Indian celebrities. Several Bollywood and cricket stars tweeted about the unity of India with a common twin hashtag #IndiaTogether #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.
What are the new Farm Bills?
Farm bills are the acts or laws that are introduced by the Government of India. The Indian government introduced these laws to bring reforms in the agriculture sector. The government claims, these changes are meant to safeguard the agriculture produce as well as the hard work of farmers. The central government launched three farm bills as an ordinance in the first week of June 2020. Later, the parliament passed these ordinances launching the new farm bills. These bills deal with the reforms in agricultural produce, its sale, marketing, hoarding and contract farming.
What do the new farming laws propose?
The three farm bills are: -Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) or FPTC Bill, 2020
These three farming laws suggest different changes in the agriculture sector which ensure long term benefits to the farmers. The FPTC bill allows the farmers to sell their produce outside the notified APMC mandis without having to pay any state taxes or any charges. In Empowerment and Protection act, buyers and farmers can enter into a contract. In the contract buyer assures the price for farmers produce through an agreement. The ruling government has made amendments in Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in a way which ensures the interests of consumers.
Former farm bills have protected India’s farmers from the free market for decades. However, farmers thought that these new laws loosen the rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce. With increasing interference of the corporate sector and decreasing importance of MSP system, the farmers fear that the new laws will threaten the decades-long concessions.