The death of Sikh priest Sant Baba Ram Singh near the Singhu border in Delhi Wednesday gave a new twist to more than three weeks protest by thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and other states have been protesting near the Delhi borders demanding that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government should repeal the controversial farm laws.
For more than three weeks, tens of thousands of Indian farmers have camped out around New Delhi to protest a set of farm bills passed by the country's parliament in September. Thousands more from the neighboring states of Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh look set to join in the coming days, even as police try to block them from entering the city.
The protests are not an isolated movement. On Nov. 26, an estimated 250 million citizens participated in a 24-hour general strike held to challenge the new laws. The magnitude of the protests should not be a surprise: Agriculture employs about half of the Indian workforce, although it accounts for only one-sixth of India's GDP.
Sant Baba Ram Singh
Tellingly, Sant Baba Ram Singh suicide with his revolver almost coincided with the self-immolation on December 17, 2011, by Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor which became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring against autocratic regimes.
A suicide note left by Sant Baba said he was unable to bear the "pain of farmers". Police said that, as per preliminary reports, the Sant shot himself in his car near the protest site.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the Modi government should quit its "stubbornness" and withdraw the laws. "Sant Baba Ram Singh Ji of Karnal committed suicide after seeing the plight of farmers on the Kundli border. Many farmers have sacrificed their lives. The brutality of the Modi government has crossed all limits. Quit stubbornness and immediately withdraw the anti-agricultural law," he said in a tweet in Hindi.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also blamed
the government for the incident. "Modi ji, stop playing with sentiments of
farmers," Surjewala tweeted.
What do Farmers say?
India's farmers say the new laws will make it easier for corporations to exploit agricultural workers. A lot of that has to do with Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), government-guaranteed prices that have served as a crucial safety net for farmers. In the past, farmers have also been required to sell their goods at auction at their state's Agricultural Produce Market Committee. But Modi's new laws dismantle both the committee structure and MSPs, which could prompt big companies to drive down prices. And yes, farmers could sell crops at elevated prices to meet demandbut oversaturated markets could also tank farmers' incomes.
"I've now studied India's new farm bills & realize they are flawed and will be detrimental to farmers," Kaushik Basu, a former chief economic adviser to the federal government, wrote on Twitter. "Our agriculture regulation needs change, but the new laws will end up serving corporate interests more than farmers. Hats off to the sensibility & moral strength of India's farmers," Basu was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The Farmers protests are not an isolated movement. On Nov. 26, an estimated 250 million citizens participated in a 24-hour general strike held to challenge the new laws. The magnitude of the protests should not be a surprise: Agriculture employs about half of the Indian workforce, although it accounts for only one-sixth of India's GDP.
Protest rallies across US Cities against farm laws in India
Earlier this month, hundreds of Sikh-Americans have held peaceful protest rallies in several cities across the US in support of the Indian farmers who have been protesting against the new agricultural reforms in India, according to the PTI.
A large car caravan of protesters from various parts of California blocked the traffic on the Bay Bridge as they moved towards the Indian Consulate in San Francisco, while several hundreds gathered in downtown Indianapolis.
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