The farmers’ protests, which began in Delhi on November 26, 2020, have been called by some observers as the “largest and longest peasants’ struggle in the history of modern India”. Three contentious farm laws, which were promulgated via an ordinance by the Union government, triggered the protests. These were the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and the Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. The laws dealt with the sale of agricultural produce, their hoarding, agricultural marketing and contract reform farming among other things, which would essentially open the floodgates for the entry of private players into the agricultural sector.
According to the leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella organisation formed to coordinate the protests, the three laws would leave the farmers at the “mercy of corporates” as it would make Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees meaningless. Along with the repeal of the laws, the SKM also demanded that a legislation be enacted guaranteeing minimum support price for agricultural commodities.
Through the year-long protest, which was primarily led by farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh with massive support from farmers across the country, the farmers remained steadfast in their demands. Eventually the three laws were withdrawn. In a televised address, Modi bemoaned the fact that his government had been unable to convince farmers of the advantages of the laws and said: “We have failed”. Subsequently, the farm laws were repealed by both the Houses of Parliament on November 29, 2021.
The agitation showed how a peaceful and democratic protest could challenge the might of the state. The protesters remained firm at five different locations on the Delhi border through the brutally cold winter and scorching summer of north India. Impromptu towns came up at the protest sites with tented accommodation, community kitchens, and healthcare facilities to sustain the struggle. Over 700 farmers are reported to have died in the course of the protest. The agitation saw an overwhelming participation by women and a socially diverse groups of farmers overcoming boundaries of caste, religion, and geography.