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Beyond Punjab-Haryana: Meet farmers protesting against new farm laws across India

Irfan Jafri is itching to get back to Delhi.

On November 26, when hundreds of farmers marched towards national capital in protest against three new agriculture laws, 50-year-old Jafri was among them. When the Delhi police shut down the city’s borders, he spent 17 days camping at the Singhu border between Haryana and Delhi with 200 other farmers from his village in Madhya Pradesh’s Raisen district.

“During that time, locals opened up their homes to us, Sikh groups gave us free langar food, and we had a chance to meet farmers from all over India,” said Jafri, a wheat, rice and soyabean farmer who heads a local agricultural organisation – Kisan Jagruti Sangathan – in his district.

Farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been on the frontlines of this unprecedented uprising. The media attention they have received has created a misleading impression that the opposition to the laws is restricted mainly to those two states.

But protests by farmers from a range of other states – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and others – have intensified in the past few weeks. While some like Jafri have joined or attempted to join the protesters at the borders of Delhi, others – like farmers in Bihar or Kerala – have staged rallies in their own states. On January 11, more than 500 farmers from districts across Kerala will begin a three-day journey by road to reach Delhi, to be followed by another 500 people on January 21.

The Central government maintains that the three laws, passed by Parliament in September, will overhaul outdated procurement procedures for farm produce, give farmers more options for selling their harvest and improve pricing. Farmers, however, claim that the laws will in fact weaken the minimum support price system, lead to a deregulation of crop pricing and leave them at the mercy of corporations.

Eight rounds of talks between the Centre and farmers’ unions have now ended in stalemates, with farmers demanding a complete repeal of the laws and the government refusing to entertain that possibility. spoke to several farmers from different states across India, to ask them why they had joined the protests and what they expect from the resistance.

‘Ready for a long fight’

Irfan Jafri, Madhya Pradesh

For Jafri, who has organised several district-level protests in Raisen since his return from Singhu border last month, the main problem with the new farm laws is the lack of regulation of traders.

The state of Madhya Pradesh, he said, had witnessed a recent example that has frightened farmers: In December 2020, two brothers called the Khoja Traders duped at least 22 farmers in four of the state’s districts of produce worth Rs 22 crore. When cheques issued to the farmers bounced, they discovered that the Khoja Traders had cancelled their registration with the government-run agricultural produce market, and were not registered in the private markets.

“The traders could do this because under the new law [The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act], traders don’t need to be licensed – they can just show their PAN cards to buy produce,” said Jafri. The law also does not allow criminal complaints to be filed against traders – all cases of dispute have to be settled by the sub-divisional magistrate. “How are farmers going to get justice now?”

Jafri and other farmers from the Kisan Jagruti Sangathan have spent the past month travelling from village to village in Raisen and other districts, educating farmers about such implications of the new laws. “It has taken time, but farmers have now understood the risks and are ready for a long fight,” he said. Jafri plans to travel towards Delhi on January 15, and is enlisting a contingent of farmers to join him. “We are in a democracy. If the people don’t want a law, how long can the government impose it on us? I believe farmers will win.”

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