Silencing the Soil The farmers’ protests and democratic debate in India

by Nazia Sheikh
A free and democratic society is demonstrated by personal property, freedom of religion and speech, citizenship, voting rights, freedom from unwarranted governmental deprivation of the right to life and liberty, minority rights, and protests, which are a vital means of expressing dissatisfaction with governmental activities. Almost 70 percent of the population in India relies heavily on the agricultural industry for their fundamental needs. This industry has continued to play a significant role in the nation’s economic stability even in the wake of the ongoing global epidemic.
In December 2021, Farmers in India forced the repeal of three controversial Farm Laws that sought to deregulate the country’s agricultural industry to further corporate interests, after a year of persistent public protests. Farmers were afraid that the rules would make it easier for corporations to seize control of India’s agrarian economy, undermine price support for important crops, and endanger their means of livelihood. They had also requested that the federal minister’s son be brought to trial by the government for allegedly running over and killing four protesting farmers during the 2021 demonstration. Following the repeal of the new farm laws by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration in 2021, the government announced plans to form a group comprising government officials and farmers to determine strategies for guaranteeing support prices for all agricultural produce. After the government agreed to negotiate their additional requests, which included guaranteed prices for produce and the dismissal of criminal charges against the protesters, and canceled the proposed farm laws in 2021, farmer organizations decided to end their strike. A committee to handle farming issues was established by the Modi government, but it was not composed of delegates from Punjab, Haryana, or Uttar Pradesh— all of which are significant producers of grains. Hardly any progress has been made by the committee. Farmers are still facing persistent issues in the meantime. Every year, thousands of Indian farmers commit suicide as a result of debt brought on by crop failures. Climate change-related harsh weather and diminishing water supplies have decreased agricultural output. The protest movement turned out to be one of the primary challenges facing the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Now in 2024, the farmers have returned, and they claim they wish to remind the government of the commitments made at that time. Human Rights Watch claims that Indian authorities are intimidating farmers into not conducting peaceful rallies by employing excessive force, threats, and internet shutdowns. Farmers from the states of Punjab and Haryana have been demonstrating outside India’s capital, New Delhi, since mid-February, demanding better pricing for their agricultural products. A year-long movement that came to an end in 2021 when tens of thousands of farmers camped outside of New Delhi and succeeded in getting new agricultural laws revoked is being revived by the protesters. An extended list of 23 crops, which the government would buy at a minimum guaranteed price, is part of the farmers’ present demands in 2024. The authorities have blocked roads with barbed wire, metal containers, and cement blocks to keep the protesters from reaching the city. There is no progress in the negotiations between the administration and the farmers.

A constructive conversation that involves farmers in consultations on the terms of the agricultural reform proposals is required rather than ridiculing and silencing the criticism. This will make sure that the new reforms are understood and voluntarily embraced by the majority of people, rather than just being forced upon them.

India’s government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has frequently cracked down on peaceful rallies and detained people who object to its policies. With the statement, “We have identified them with CCTV and drone cameras,” a police official threatened to cancel the demonstrators’ passports and visas. To disperse crowds and medical camps, the authorities also utilized tear gas shells and drones. To contain the mob, they fired shotguns loaded with metal pellets, which can result in blindness and other severe injuries. Shubhkaran Singh, a farmer in the region that borders the states of Punjab and Haryana, was 24 years old when he was shot in the head by police on February 21. The Indian government frequently used this strategy to undermine political demonstrations by the farmers, and the Haryana government appears to have attempted this by temporarily restricting internet access in seven areas. According to the Global Government Affairs team at X (previously Twitter), on February 21, the Indian government sent them “executive orders” that mandated them to remove certain accounts. The majority of these accounts— some of which are blocked on Facebook— belong to reporters covering the demonstrations, leaders of the farmers’ union, and other people who endorse the farmers’ activities. According to international human rights law, India must make sure that internet-based limitations are mandated by the government and are a reasonable and necessary response to a particular security issue. The United Nations Human Rights Council denounced actions taken to obstruct or restrict online information dissemination or access in July 2016. Even though it is the foundation of the Indian economy, the agriculture sector is still the most neglected and undervalued, receiving only 2 percent of the country’s overall budget. Records show that 7.4 percent of all suicides in the country are farmer suicides. “Multiple projectiles fired at the same time are inaccurate and, generally, their use cannot comply with the principles of necessity and proportionality,” according to the 2020 UN guidance on “less-lethal weapons” in law enforcement. It is never advisable to employ metal pellets, such as those discharged from shotguns. The BJP-led administration in India must take action to reduce political violence rather than make it worse as the country prepares for elections. The legally given freedoms and liberties of the protesting farmers in India have been severely violated. Reforms in the agriculture sector are desperately needed. In a democracy, citizens have the important right to express their discontent and protest in peace. India’s ongoing use of disproportionate and excessive force against these protestors is unjustifiable and violates their human rights, which are protected by both international law and the Constitution. To truly uphold democracy and human rights, one must allow for political difference, dissent, and nonviolent protest. Therefore, a constructive conversation that involves farmers in consultations on the terms of the agricultural reform proposals is required rather than ridiculing and silencing the criticism. This will make sure that the new reforms are understood and voluntarily embraced by the majority of people, rather than just being forced upon them. Nazia Sheikh
The writer is a Research Officer at Centre for International Strategic Studies, AJK. She can be reached at

You may also like

Leave a Comment

Stay Connected

Follow and subscribe

Contact CISS AJK

Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir