ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Contemporary Farmers’ Protests and the ‘New Rural–Agrarian’ in India

What are the reasons behind farmers’ protests? Using narratives collected from various parts of India, the underlying processes of socio-economic transformations, which have created a dual-identity crisis among farmers, are explained to argue that anxieties have manifested in large-scale protests, producing a new politics around rural–agrarian questions.

This paper is an attempt to understand the agitations by farmers in India erupting since March 2017. The protesting farmers have been demanding higher minimum support prices (MSP), loan waivers and implementation of the Swaminathan Committee recommendations. This paper tries to explain the nature of these protests and the reasons behind such massive farmers’ mobilisations after almost 30 years. It is argued that these protests are the political manifestation of a major attitudinal shift in Indian society towards the rural–agrarian. Contrary to the late 1980s and 1990s, when the rural as a sociocultural space was “vanishing” (Gupta 2005), and people’s participation in the agrarian profession was declining (Reddy and Mishra 2009), this attitudinal shift is indicative of a reversal of the trend. These protests show an emergence of a new social group that looks up to the rural–agrarian as the way of the future. This also demonstrates a quest for a new identity based on an imagination of the new rural–agrarian.

This attitudinal change followed by the mass political mobilisation of the farmers is an outcome of dual “crises”:1 the rural–agrarian crisis and an emerging sense of disillusionment with the urban. Those who participated in these protests were not only farmers who were defending the rural, as was the case during the 1990s farmers’ movements. People from all segments of the rural–agrarian society, including small shopkeepers, women, landless families and so on, participated in these protests. Besides, it also involved a semi-urbanised, propertied middle class who may have had some historical linkages with the people in the rural areas.

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Updated On : 11th Dec, 2020

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