After a year of sustained protests, farmers are poised to return home from Delhi. They called off their 15-month long protest after the government agreed to a clutch of demands, including assurances to consider guaranteed prices (MSP) on all produce.
The months were marked by farmers assembling on Delhi borders, violent clashes with the police, surviving harsh conditions, occasionally dissent from within government and periodic protests by the Opposition and farmers’ deaths.
Here are 10 key moments from the farmer’s protest as they strive to reshape farming in India:
The Indian Parliament passed three agriculture acts—Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance, Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020—during its monsoon session culminating on 23 September 2020.
The bills affect the way farmers store and sell their produce. Prior to these bills being enacted, farmers sold their crops to Mandis (markets) at an agreed Minimum Support Price (MSP) set by the government. Now the bills enable private companies to buy from farmers direct with no guarantee they will match the MSP.
The president signed the bills amid an uproar by opposition party leaders and farmer groups alike. They were passed without any consultation with the farmers or the Indian Farmers Union.
Farmers were concerned that the new bills would cause the death of the Mandis. They demanded a complete repeal of three farm laws and a legal guarantee on minimum support price for their crops. They claimed that a slew of agricultural laws aimed at deregulating crop pricing would leave them at the mercy of large corporations.
Farmers across the country staged massive protests, backed by several farm organizations. Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and other neighbouring states marched on Delhi and set up massive camps blocking entry to the city. Around 250 million farmers and allies have protested agriculture laws that they claim will destroy livelihoods. This is reportedly the largest protest in human history.
Tens of thousands of farmers protesting agricultural reforms drove a convoy of tractors towards New Delhi on January 26, 2021, to kick off the tractor rally. Farmers drove in huge lines of tractors on banned routes, riding horses or marching on foot. A segment of the tractor demonstration, however, became violent as protesting farmers clashed with police.
In September 2021, thousands of farmers from across the country gathered at the Government Inter College (GIC) ground in Muzaffarnagar to participate in the Kisan Mahapanchayat, an event organised by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha to demonstrate farmers’ strength and solidarity. This heightened the protest, and they vowed to continue protesting until their demands were met.
This past year defined farmers’ unwavering resilience in the face of harsh weather, the covid-19 outbreak and other challenges. Police had used tear gas and water cannons against the marching farmers and ripped up highways to stop tractors and protesters moving forward.
Amid all these challenges, farmers had built permanent houses on the roads and stood like a sturdy wall. Farmers pitched tents, set up chairs, fans, coolers, and cookware to spend their days and nights here. They had brought enough food, supplies, and blankets to last for however long it took.
The government and farm unions have engaged in several rounds of negotiation since October last year. However, none of the discussions was successful. The government asked them to consider their offer of suspending the implementation of the Acts for one-and-a-half years, but the farmers remained adamant about repealing the three agricultural laws.
Indian farmers’ efforts have been supported all over the UK and elsewhere, with rallies taking place in London and Birmingham. People from all over the world supported farmers through donations and rallies. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among the first international leaders to back farmer protests.
The United Nations (UN) had also extended its support to farmers. Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the UN said, “People have the right to demonstrate peacefully, and authorities need to let them do so.”
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organization of farmers’ associations, launched a “No Vote to BJP” campaign in West Bengal in early March 2021 to protest the three farm legislation during the West Bengal elections.
They sought to undermine the BJP’s political clout in the country, as only the ruling party could decide the destiny of three farm laws.
On the day the West Bengal Assembly elections were declared, over two dozen farmers were imprisoned in the Bhiwani district while attempting to travel to the town to conduct a demonstration against the chief minister. Soon after their arrest, farmers stopped at least four major routes in order to demand their release, and the Bhiwani agitators were eventually released.
Due to the farmers’ protest, about 60-65 NH toll plazas have been closed for almost a year, costing the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) toll losses totalling Rs. 2,731.32 crore in Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan.
Initially, toll plazas in the state of Punjab were made non-operational by agitating farmers in October 2020. It eventually spread to the neighbouring states of Haryana and parts of Rajasthan.
Farm unions have claimed nearly 700 farmers lost their lives during the protests and their pending demands include compensation as well as withdrawal of all criminal cases lodged against protesting farmers.
For instance, on October 3, four farmers were mowed down by an SUV in Lakhimpur Kheri while protesting the Centre’s three new agricultural regulations during a demonstration against the visit of Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. Four more people were killed in the ensuing violence on the same day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that his government would repeal three laws. At the time, he urged the farmers to return home, but they refused, vowing to wait until the laws were formally repealed.
Farmers refused to budge until the government sent an official letter to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) promising to form a committee to decide on the Minimum Support Price and withdraw all cases against them immediately.
Farmers have now begun to remove tents from their protest site near Delhi’s borders and are preparing to return home following their victory in regaining their rights.