'Dilli Chalo': The Pulse of Those That Feed the Nation

Since the economic reforms and the opening up of Indian agriculture to global markets, farmers across the nation have been subjected to severe economic distress, unusual changes in agriculture practices resulting in agrarian crises, and unpredictable market fluctuations. In other words, the life of an Indian farmer is riddled with untold stories of misery and despair, consequently leading to a spate of deaths primarily by suicide as a result of farmers incurring heavy debts from loans. India accounts for one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The existing anxieties and fears of the farmers have been further accentuated by the passing of the three farm bills, namely the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. The first bill seeks to completely open the sale of agricultural produce outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs). In other words, the market is thrown open for private players to invest in the agricultural sector and deal directly with the farmers. The second bill creates a mechanism for contract farming. The third bill takes away pulses, cereals, oilseeds, onions, potatoes, and edible oil from the list of essential commodities. Therefore, these commodities are free of the restrictions governing the Essential Commodities Act and stand deregulated. 

The Prime Minister promised that the three farm bills would revolutionise Indian agriculture by doubling the incomes of the farmers, but the ongoing farmers’ agitation exposes some of the serious biases in the law that are a grave detriment to the agrarian sector and communities associated with it. Indian agriculture has been subjected to reforms in the past and farming communities in crisis have opposed the very fundamentals of such reforms. But the current farmers’ protests not only speak volumes of the unprecedented nature of the mass agitation that has engulfed Delhi, but also reflect a deep-rooted crisis of fair developmental possibilities for the agrarian economy in the future. Each of the provisions under the new farm laws intend to take away the agency from an average farmer and hand it over to big corporates and private agribusinesses. The dismantling of APMCs have also raised serious concerns among the farming communities about the “written assurances” of the minimum support price (MSP) for their farm produce. The complete deregulation of agriculture will also throw small and marginal farmers, owning less than two acres of land, at the mercy of private players. Thus, the fear of an uncertain future has created a crisis of confidence and broken the relationship of trust between farmers and the state.  

While some have supported the necessity of these “reforms,” many (including farmers’ organisations) have criticised these, primarily on two aspects; first, the intrinsic perception is that the laws have been “imposed” on them and not democratically implemented, because the voices and concerns of the farmers have gone unheard. The wants of farmers never formed a part of the deliberations or the implementation process. Second, the reforms have been painted with a neo-liberal tinge, implying the creeping corporatisation of Indian agriculture, where farmers begin to slowly lose their lands to big corporate houses. The fundamentals of governance are the voice of its people. The founders of our Constitution mandated that the voice of the people be heard across the hallowed halls of Parliament. For it is the people that placed lawmakers in Parliament. Voices not heard can come back with force to be heard, and that is exactly what the farmers’ acts have evoked amongst the citizens of the nation. Moreover, the manner in which this imposition has been carried out is being questioned on several grounds. It is in response to these unjust laws that hundreds of thousands of farmers have been protesting on the outskirts of Delhi, blocking many of the main arteries to the capital. While angry and agitated farmers have been waging protests on a scale unprecedented in the history of India against these “anti-farmer” laws for over four months now; these agitations stemmed from their respective states spreading to the nation’s capital, Delhi, as voices remain unheard. “Dilli Chalo” resonates amongst farmer communities from across the nation, for they feel that only upon their arrival at the gates of Parliament will the government (which has turned a deaf ear so far) address their demands.