July 25 event will be held in support of farmers protesting agricultural laws
(Somerville Wire) – The Coalition for a Democratic India, the Boston South Asian Coalition, and allied organizations will be hosting a rally in Somerville’s Union Square on July 25 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to support Indian farmers’ and the Indian people’s right to dissent. At the event, there will be music, speeches, poetry, and food. According to CNN, farmers have been living in camps outside the capital city of New Delhi since November, protesting three new undemocratic laws initiated by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event will demonstrate solidarity with the fight of farmers across the globe.
“People realize that this is not only about farmers’ issues,” said Somnath Mukherji, a member of BSAC. “Democracy or whatever little of democracy is left in India is under threat, by the one percent who rule the country. Democracy is under threat from them, from this nexus of the state and the corporate. The state has been mostly overtaken by corporations and billionaires, and the state is doing the bidding of the billionaires. … In many, many ways, people have started feeling threatened from these moves of takeover, and when it came and hit the farmers, which is a very large faction of India’s population, I think everyone sort of woke up. In that way, this farmers’ movement is the movement to protect whatever little of democracy is left in the country.”
In September 2020, the three farm acts, often called the Farm Bills, were passed, triggering a huge wave of response from the public. Under previous laws, farmers had been able to sell their goods through the Agricultural Produce Market Committee, which guaranteed a government-agreed minimum price. This system gave them stability. Under the new laws, the committee structure was dismantled, and farmers can now sell their goods to anyone at any price. While the government has insisted that this gives farmers freedom, the laws actually allow corporations to drive down prices, leaving the farmers vulnerable to exploitation. Meanwhile, problems within the agricultural industry can be traced to long before September, according to Arif Hussain, executive director of CDI.
“These three laws were passed last year,” said Hussain. “For example, especially on the issue of providing a minimum support price … minimum support price is not provided for, for all produce. There are 35 or 36 items on which the government provides minimum support price. In most cases, that is not even enforced. It’s enforced on very few items, items like corn, rice, and wheat, and that too, in few states.” He added, “Of course, the people who suffer the most from the new laws are going to raise their voices. [For those who were under] the stage where they’re not getting the minimum support price to start with, they’re not losing anything more. They lost it long ago, when they were cut out of the system of procurement. But not right now. That has been an old story. But these people who are going to suffer immediately are raising their voices, which is very normal.”
During the protests in India, police have been known to react violently, using batons, water cannons, and tear gas on the crowds. In turn, the protesters retaliated with sticks and metal bars. According to Hussain, there have been many women and children in the camps. Ryan Costello, cofounder of the Free Saibaba Coalition, said that he believes the farmers’ responses to the police violence is warranted.
“At every level, the government is trying to physically harm the protesters and has killed several hundred people,” said Costello. “They have sprayed water on them in the freezing cold, they have tried to stop them from getting water, to make them die of thirst or force them to leave. … The police have done a lot of different forms of attacks. I think the government has absolutely, intentionally tried to brutally suppress this movement. I fear that the government may decide to use even more brutal force, including live ammunition. As far as the movement, I think people are looking for it to be peaceful. But when attacked violently, people defend themselves.”
Mukherji said that he believes the protests have “unnerved the government” with their persistence. The protesters are exercising their right to dissent and freedom of speech, he stated, essential practices in a democratic society.
“This is a question of holding power accountable,” said Mukherji. “In the United States or in India, you cannot do this. Just because someone is elected to power does not mean they can go around, doing anything.” He added, “I think people are understanding that these political boundaries are man-made. To solve the problems of today, we have to be able to work as humanity and not as the United States, Canada, India, Mali, and Zambia. Because the more unequal the world has become, the more the oppressed people are feeling the heat, both inside the political boundaries and outside.”
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.