THE FARMER’S PROTEST: Let’s dig deep
For decades, the world has become a blind eye to India’s unfathomable human rights record. This procedure draws from a ubiquitous perception of India.
For one, the United States, like countless of the global community, sees India as an influential counterweight to China. They are the two most teeming nations and the fastest-growing trillion-dollar economies in the world. Global authorities tend to fancy India because of its standing as the world’s most comprehensive democracy. At the same time, India’s adversarial alliance with neighbouring Pakistan, as well as its increasingly anti-Muslim tactics, position it as a fortification against “Islamic terrorism.”
These two bogeymen—Chinese imperialism and Islamic terrorism—are the spectres that have given India a free pass.
Over the past few years, however, the rise of right-wing authoritarianism has induced India’s democratic reputation into an enigma. India has nosedived in democracy metrics beyond the board, including the Press Freedom Index, where it now ranks 142 of 180 countries, four spots behind South Sudan and three behind Myanmar. The Human Freedom Index ranks India at 111 of 162 countries, just four ahead of Russia. This past September human rights group Amnesty International ceased operations in India following maintained assaults from the Indian government.
WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT HERE?
“No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Central Government or the State Government, or any officer of the Central Government or the State Government or any other person in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act or of any rules or orders made thereunder.”
Welcome to Section 13 of The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 (the one aimed at gutting the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees, better known as APMCs).
And you thought the new laws were only about farmers? Sure, other laws also exclude prosecution of civil servants for carrying out their legal duties. But this one goes way over the top. The immunity given to all those in respect of anything, acting ‘in good faith,’ whatever they do, is sweeping. Not only can they not be taken to the courts for a crime they may have committed ‘in good faith’ – they’re protected against legal action for crimes they are yet to commit (‘in good faith’ of course).
Just in case you missed the point – that you have no legal recourse in the courts – Section 15 rubs it in:
“No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter, the cognizance of which can be taken and disposed of by any authority empowered by or under this Act or the rules made thereunder.”
Who is the ‘any other person’ doing things ‘in good faith’ who cannot be legally challenged? Hint: try listening to the names of corporate giants that the protesting farmers are chanting. This is about the ease of business – of very, very Big Business.
“No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie….” It’s not just farmers who cannot sue. Nobody else can, either. It applies to public interest litigation too. Nor can non-profit groups, or farm unions, or any citizen (driven by faith good or bad) intervene.
These are surely among the most sweeping exclusions of a citizen’s right to legal recourse in any law outside of the Emergency of 1975-77 (when we simply suspended all fundamental rights).
The usurping of judicial power by an arbitrary executive will have profound consequences
Every Indian is affected. Translated into English, the legal-lingo of these laws also convert the (low-level) executive into a judiciary. Into, in fact, judge, jury and executioner. It also magnifies the already most unjust imbalance of power between farmers and the giant corporations they will be dealing with.
Who is holding the protests?
Hundreds of thousands of farmers, the majority of the Sikh and from the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting against the introduction last September of a series of agricultural laws.
The farmers began their protests in their states but in late November they marched or drove their tractors to the outskirts of Delhi. Here they set up three sprawling protest camps, in the areas of Singh, Ghazipur and Tikri. The farmers built tents and homes in their tractor-trailers, set up kitchens, shops and libraries, and have vowed not to move until the farm laws are repealed. The farmers, who are led by well-organised unions, have also said they will expand the protests nationwide and have planned a series of rallies across the country in the coming weeks.
Why do they oppose the laws?
The measures introduced by the central government are some of the most sweeping changes to agriculture since the 1990s, in particular regarding how crops can be sold on the market. Farming employs more than 50% of India’s workforce. Many feel the sector requires an overhaul and modernisation, in particular, so it can adapt to the challenges of global heating. Indian farmers, 85% of whom own fewer than five acres of land, have long struggled with poverty and debt, and suicide rates are high. In 2019 nearly 10,300 farmers killed themselves.
The government argues that the laws are a necessary step towards the modernisation of agriculture, allowing farmers to sell crops to private firms rather than just state-controlled markets where some prices are subsidised greatly by taxpayers.
However, farmers say the laws will leave them at the mercy of corporations by taking away the safety net of guaranteed prices for certain crops, and leave them at greater risk of losing their land. They have also objected to the laws being introduced without consultation, accusing the government of ramming the changes down their throats.
What has been the government’s response?
The farmers forced the government to the negotiating table but 11 rounds of discussions have gone nowhere. In recent weeks the government has taken an increasingly draconian approach to the protests and those reporting on it. At least 10 sedition cases have been filed against journalists and politicians for tweets related to the protests, and riot police and paramilitary forces have descended on the farmers’ camps, barricading them in. Mobile internet access at the camps was suspended for several days. In parliament, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, accused the protesters of being infiltrated by agitators who were not dedicated to the cause and we're just trying to stir up trouble.
The government has also responded strongly to the foreign spotlight on the protests. After tweets from the singer Rihanna and the Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg drew attention to the farmers, the external affairs ministry released a statement condemning celebrities who it said were “rushing to comment on such matters” without a “proper understanding of the issues”.
SC stays the implementation of new farm laws till further orders
On 11 January, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of new farm laws till further orders and decided to set up a 4-member committee to resolve the impasse over them between the Centre and farmers' unions protesting at Delhi borders. The four names of members include Bhupinder Singh Mann, President of Bhartiya Kisan Union; Anil Ghanwat, President of Shetkeri Sangthana, Maharashtra; Pramod Kumar Joshi, director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute, and agriculture economist Ashok Gulati.
Later, Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann had recused himself from the committee appointed by the apex court.
Three farm laws
The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 seeks to provide for the creation of an ecosystem where the farmers and traders enjoy the freedom of choice relating to sale and purchase of farmers' produce which facilitates remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels to promote efficient, transparent and barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade, said the government.
It also seeks to commerce of farmers' produce outside physical premises of markets or deemed markets notified under various state agricultural produce market legislations; to provide a facilitative framework for electronic trading and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto, the ministry said.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 seeks to provide for a national framework on farming agreements that protects and empowers farmers to engage with agri-business firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers for farm services and sale of future farming produce at a mutually agreed remunerative price framework in a fair and transparent manner and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto, the ministry said.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oil seeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. This will remove fears of private investors of excessive regulatory interference in their business operations, the ministry added.
What will happen now?
The supreme court has suspended the implementation of the laws for 18 months but the farmers have said that is not enough and they will only accept a full repeal. However, Modi’s strongman reputation means he is unlikely to bow to their demands, and he may instead wait it out and attempt to wear down the protesters through a combination of attrition and “divide and conquer” tactics.
Indian farmers storm New Delhi's Red Fort during tractor protest
New Delhi (CNN)- Thousands of Indian farmers protesting controversial agricultural reforms stormed New Delhi's historic Red Fort Tuesday, with others breaching barricades and clashing with police.
Protesters scaled the walls of the iconic monument and a flag was hoisted alongside India's national flag.
Tear gas and flash bangs could been seen on live streams from the city's streets as police moved to contain large crowds of protestors in tractors and on foot from breaking through barricades. Both police and protesters were spotted with large sticks in the streets.
One protestor, 30-year-old Navreet Singh, died when a tractor overturned during the protests near Delhi police headquarters, Sanjay Bhatia, deputy commissioner of police said Wednesday.
Police also said that 86 officers were injured and 22 police complaints were registered against protestors for violation of lawful directions, rioting, damage to public property and assault on public servant with deadly weapons, in incidents that took place across the city.
It was supposed to be a massive but peaceful rally, as hundreds of thousands of farmers drove their tractors in convoy into the Indian capital as part of ongoing, nationwide protests against three farm laws that protesters say put their livelihoods at risk.
Many of the farmers, who had adorned their tractors with colorful flags, including the flag of India and various farmers unions, had been camping out in protest on the outskirts of the capital for more than two months. Others, including young farmers from the northern states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan, had gathered on the border over the past few days in time for the planned march on India's Republic Day.
Writer - Hrishita Dev
Editor - Priyam Kusundal
Illustrator - Ishika Chakraborty
Graphics - Akshaya Shankarganeshan