It is unusual for the Foreign Ministry of a country that claims to be the largest democracy on the planet to criticize in a statement a tweet written by a famous international singer. American artist Rihanna, who has more than 100 million followers on Twitter, equivalent to almost 10% of the entire population of India, shared a CNN article about the farmers’ protests outside New Delhi. “Why aren’t we talking about this?” Rihanna commented. Hours later, other popular voices, such as that of the teenage activist Greta Thunberg or the lawyer Meena Harris, niece of the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, followed the singer’s thread showing their support for the riots that have been shaking the main states of the Asian country since November.
The temptation of social media hashtags and tabloid comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible. Before we rush to comment on such matters, we urge that the facts be found out,” the Ministry responded of Foreign Affairs of India. After this statement, in the streets of New Delhi, there was a counter-demonstration to protest the comments of these celebrities. They even burned several portraits of Greta Thunberg. If someone is interested in the current situation of the second most populated nation in the world, they will discover that it is in the midst of a massive vaccination campaign against a coronavirus that has already left almost 11 million infections and 156,000 deaths. The campaign is going well: in 13 days they have vaccinated three million citizens. No other country, in that time frame, has vaccinated so many people.
But the news in India, even more than vaccines, is the Bharat Bandh. In the current context, they are translated as general strikes led by those who work the land, who have mounted a revolution due to a series of agricultural laws that they consider a lurch for their survival. As a result, India has seen daily scenes of burning containers and mountains of tires for more than three months, highways cut off by tractor barricades, trains blocked by brick towers on the tracks, and makeshift camps outside New Delhi, where they have settled. thousands of farmers across the country. There, they have even built villages from scratch, making construction huts with kitchens, shops, and even libraries.
All of them are clear about their purpose, to overturn three agricultural laws approved in September by the Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Under the new reforms, the sale of peasant crops in wholesale markets regulated by the authorities would end. Now, large merchants will be able to purchase products directly from farmers, setting prices for them and not the State. For politicians ruling Delhi, the new rules allow farmers to sell their products to anyone for any price, giving them more freedom to sell directly to buyers and or to other states. Farmers argue that these laws will make it easier for corporations to exploit workers and help big companies lower prices.
Different points of view, but popular favor has been won by the agricultural sector, which employs more than half of a population of 1.3 billion people and whose activity sustains 18% of the entire GDP of the country. For this reason, these protests are a fundamental problem for the Modi government, especially since those who are demonstrating represent 58% of the electorate. After more than 30 meetings between the Government and the representatives of the farmers’ unions, they have not reached any agreement. It had to be the Supreme Court of India that three weeks ago issued an order to suspend the three controversial agricultural laws while a mediation committee was formed so that both parties could reach an agreement. Although the farmers have refused to have mediators appointed by a court that they do not consider neutral.
Meanwhile, the protests continue daily. Two weeks ago, the Indian government took another step by blocking Internet access in the districts outside New Delhi where farmers are based. “The politicians do not want our peaceful protests to be seen. On their channels, they only publish images of fire and destruction. The Government has blocked the Internet. Democracy does not do these things. Now they are going for the media that report freely. They are very undemocratic measures, “Darshan Pal, leader of Samyukta Kisan Morcha, one of the largest agricultural unions in India, told this newspaper through a statement. According to local media reports, the police in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh states have detained some journalists covering the protests, and the authorities continue to block the Internet for several hours a day.
They will not be able to silence us. The different groups and unions, which are normally faced by competences and territories, have now come together to make this a collective struggle,” says Darshan. According to his union, at least 147 farmers have died during the protests from a variety of causes, including suicide, traffic accidents, and clashes with the police during the demonstrations. Authorities have not given an official death toll.