Indian farmers who peacefully protested for 16 months are celebrating a major victory after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his government’s intention to repeal three bills, which were dubbed as anti-farmer and pro-corporation by protestors. But, Harpal Sangha, a leader of a farmers’ union and president of the Azad Kisan Committee Doaba said the protests still don’t have an end in sight despite the bills being repealed.
“What we’ve sought was not agreed to, they’ve only done half of what we’ve wanted. We’re not done yet,” he said.
The controversial farm laws, which were initially passed without any discussion in parliament, will now be repealed in the upcoming parliament, which resumes in December, according to Modi.
The bills in question, which had been passed last year, eliminated the mandi system (MSP), which ensures farmers are paid a guaranteed minimum for their crops. Most farmers sell their crops under the government-controlled mandi system in order to avoid competing with larger corporations. These bills would in effect have changed the rules around selling, pricing and storage of produce, which farmers feared would further lead to privatization of the agricultural industry.
Farmers are now seeking to have MSP expanded to cover more crops. Currently grains like wheat and paddy (rice) are mostly covered in the Indian province of Punjab, but Sandha said the goal is to bring equality across India, not just in one region. Sangha said the farmers initial demands were always to see MSP be applied to all agricultural crops and across the entire country.
“They have not met our demands. Until they do that, we’re going to keep protesting,” he said. “In many parts of the country, farmers are still struggling. There is no structure in India, we need that.”
Prior to Friday’s announcement, Prime Minister Modi’s government had been steadfast in their belief that the bills would have created free market competition by allowing farmers to sell directly to buyers and avoid the wholesale market which would benefit farmers. However, despite the government’s desires to engage farmers in conversations, they were also simultaneously cracking down any dissidence. The government used a range of tactics including arresting journalists covering the protests, calling on Twitter to suspend accounts with opposing views and labeling celebrities supporting farmers as anti-Indian.
During his nationally televised speech, Modi said he wanted to apologize to the nation and “make a fresh start.”
“I want to say with a sincere and pure heart that maybe something was lacking in our efforts that we could not explain the truth to some of our farmer brothers,” Modi said.
Sangha is just one of an estimated 300,000 farmers who participated in the protests. While he’s encouraging people to have small celebrations, he noted the work is not over and couldn’t have been done without international support. Sangha highlighted the efforts of Canada, including the support from Canadian government officials.
On a handful of occasions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau backed the farmers rights to peacefully protest and met with pushback from the Indian government. Other Liberal MPs and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh publicly voiced their support for farmers.
“We’ve felt the support from across the world from our brothers everywhere. Farmers everywhere have supported us, because they know we’re on the right side of history,” said Sangha.
Mo Dhaliwal, the co-founder of Poetic Justice Foundation, an advocacy organization who actively supported farmers’ protests, said his goal was to ensure that people rising up against the Indian government were supported and safe. Dhaliwal, who was accused by India for an alleged international conspiracy to divide India along with climate activist Greta Thunberg and popstar Rihanna, thinks the attention given to the protests internationally played a factor in getting the Modi government to concede.
“I think what the diaspora – whether that’s Vancouver, Surrey, Toronto or Brampton – were really bringing international attention and scrutiny to India,” said Dhaliwal. “It did not allow them to continue working in the same authoritarian way they normally would.”
Dhaliwal said during the past year, whether its on the streets in Delhi or in Surrey, it’s been the elders in the community who have been the bedrock of the farmers’ movement. He thinks the older generation passed down their wisdom to the youth as the two worked together to create massive tent cities, run air conditioning, and serve tens of thousands of people food on a daily basis.
“The celebration that we see is really a type of congratulations to our elders and the community that’s been in Delhi under the elements for the past year,” said Dhaliwal. “It’s their resilience, their steadfastness, their voices, their energy that got us through this.”
Despite the victory, Dhaliwal said people need to not let their guards down, citing the previous actions of Modi government. Dhaliwal talked about the violence showcased by the Indian government towards protesters on Jan. 26 that left one person dead and hundreds injured.
He said he will continue to support farmers if they decide to keep protesting as they seek to fulfill their demands.
“I think functionally in the short term, today is something to be celebrated. But in the long term, it returns the farmers to the status quo,” he said.
Sangha and other senior union members said they are open to negotiations with the government regarding their demands, but have had limited access to speak to decision makers.