Farmers in India are Protesting Against new Agricultural Legislation and Here’s Why

farmers india

Recently passed agricultural legislation by the Indian government has led mass numbers of farmers to take the streets of Delhi to protest. Agricultural states such as Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Telegana are protesting against three specific agricultural bills passed by Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in September: the Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, Essential Commodities Act (Amendment) Bill, and the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill. Under these new laws, as Prime Minister Modi argues, the agricultural system will be streamlined and farmers will have more freedom to sell their goods at any price directly to private businesses, as opposed to having to sell their produce through auction known as the “mandi system.” 

However, farmers argue that these bills will collectively privatize the agricultural system, making them vulnerable to corporate exploitation. Privatization means farmers will not have a guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for crops, and, contrary to Modi’s claims, this will actually inhibit farmer freedom: They will become more dependent on corporations and private farms. Under the new laws, large corporations can dominate the market by driving down prices and diminishing any advantage farmers had at setting their own produce prices. This will add to India’s growing unemployment and debt the farming community is already facing. 

The new laws disproportionately affect small landholders who lack the resources to recover from losses, lack the influence to negotiate on their own behalf, and have fear of losing their land to private firms. According to Al Jazeera, many farmers argue the current state-controlled mandi system needs reform within the food supply chain to give farmers more options to sell their crops to make a profit and that these new laws will only further disempower farmers economically and within the agricultural system as a whole. 

[Read Related: The Loss of my Ancestral Tongue: Why I Regret Not Learning Punjabi]

Here’s some generational context to the agriculture community in Punjab:

Agriculture informs much of Punjabi culture at large. The folk dance and music form of Bhangra originated to celebrate the time of harvest in Punjab, and Punjabi folk songs touch on the heritage of the agricultural community. Despite the popularized, mainstream attention Punjabi culture gets, state violence against Punjabi communities is often not known or ignored. The Indian government has historically disempowered working-class Sikhs economically, politically, and religiously. We live in a society in which the Indian government has still not acknowledged its role in the 1984 Sikh Genocide, and men of all ages within the Sikh diaspora are still harassed for wearing a turban. 

These hate crimes have been consistently overlooked and not brought to mainstream media or normalized. At the start of the protests, social media platforms like Instagram temporarily blocked hashtags like #Sikh for violating community guidelines. The hashtag was later unblocked and found searchable on Nov. 28 after various community complaints. This is not the first time social media platforms have blocked Sikh-related hashtags. Instagram and Facebook first “mistakenly” blocked #Sikh for months and unblocked it in June after a similar backlash. 

What are the implications of policy violence against farmers amidst a pandemic?

More than half of India’s workforce is made up of agricultural workers, according to India’s most recent Census, and a large concentration of farming can be found in Punjab. For instance, as of April 30, Punjab produced over 50 percent of the 13 million tons of wheat produced during the COVID-19 lockdown. This means approximately 7 million tons of wheat came from 1.5 percent of the geographical area of India, The Economic Times reported. Punjabis have fed our ancestors and continue to feed our relatives, but now they face the possibility of food insecurity, unemployment, and poverty due to these new laws. 

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, these farmers were already experiencing high debts and farm bankruptcies due to lockdowns. The privatization of farms will only exacerbate inequalities and poor living conditions for farmers who can’t compete with corporations and private firms. 

The new laws set in place are an act of policy violence. They have not only led to police-state violence against protesters, but the resulting consequences of these policies can be considered violent too. According to eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, many women in Punjab seek economic independence from agriculture work, and if unemployed, women can be more susceptible to violence and sexual assault. Additionally, corporate control over farms will lead to the ecological destruction of rural land. These farmers hold cultural, generational knowledge about how to cultivate and tend to land that corporations will only look at to maximize profits off of. Furthermore, farmers were already experiencing high suicide rates in recent years. As farming conditions worsen, there are alarming implications that these rates will rise. These new farming laws are at the expense of a common pathway to women’s agency, our earth, and frankly, the survival rate of our farmers. 

[Read Related: The Fracture Between Punjabi Culture and the Sikh Religion]

Some organizations you can follow and support to provide aid to farmers in Punjab:

Khalsa Aid: 

Khalsa Aid is currently facilitating langar for farmers that are en route to Delhi. This organization has been at the forefront not just for Sikhs around the world, but any community that needs its support and assistance. 

Punjab Kisan Support Fund: 

All donations for this fund will be handed to the Guru Nanak Langar Sewa Society. These donations will give the organization an opportunity to assist impoverished families that are crying for help in these turbulent times. 

Sahaita Farmer Support Project:

Sahaita is a non-profit organization committed to educating, supporting and uplifting the underprivileged members of society. 100 percent of their donations are allocated to multiple issues, targeting nearly all districts of Punjab. 


Kisaani is a brand dedicated to supporting the Kisaan Movement. They create excellent designs in apparel, with all profits going to families of farmers that are no longer with us in efforts to support their livelihood. 

Phulkari Co. x Sahaita: 

Phulkari Co. and Sahaita collaborated and designed beautiful apparel to support the Kisaan Movement. One hundred percent of the profits of these specifically-designed tees will be going to Sahaita to support farms back home. 

Punjabis exist in spaces outside Bhangra music and of crude appropriations in Bollywood. Punjabis are the backbone of the agricultural system in India, and right now, in the streets of Delhi, these farmers are being blocked by the police, beaten, and sprayed with tear gas and water canons. I urge the South Asian diaspora to see how the agricultural community in India is foundational to sustaining society. Farmer livelihoods deserve proper protection and support from the state. Do what you can to make a difference, share our post with your online community, make a donation, and spread awareness. It’s the least we can do for the farmers aka the foundation of our country. 

By Kavita Rai

Kavita Rai is a passionate youth activist and journalist centered around creation and thinking out-of-the-box. She is a storyteller and … Read more ›

Op-Ed: An Open Letter to President Biden in Light of Prime Minister Modi’s Visit to the States

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.

Dear President Biden,

As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.

Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.

Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law. 

India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Indexwhich examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi. 

Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. 

Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.

As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.

— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).

Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular

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By Kiran Kaur Gill

Kiran Kaur Gill is an accomplished professional with exemplary executive experience. In her role as Executive Director, she is responsible … Read more ›