Of Tractors, Flags and Slogans: India’s Farmer Movement and the Great Agrarian Crisis

Convened by Khushbu Sharma & Rohit Sarma

Farmers in India are out on the streets once again, intending to reach the national capital to make their demands heard by the ruling right-wing government. What are their concerns? What are their strategies and tactics? What factors–both domestic and international– have contributed to their condition? And how is the government responding to their demands? These are the questions we will unpack with Dr. Sudhir Kumar Suthar in this session.

For the past few decades, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of farmers’ suicides in India, caused by accentuating rural and agrarian distress, the onward march of neoliberal policies, skewed and unequal conditions imposed by WTO, massive corporatization of agriculture, reducing state support, slashing of governmental subsidies, frequent land grabs, state’s urban-centric developmental discourse and general apathy towards India’s rural society. In 2020, the government introduced three farm laws which, according to India’s farmers, were pro-capitalist and against the interest of the farming communities. In opposition to the laws, a year-long protest was held by farmers at Delhi’s borders which eventually became the world’s largest peaceful protest. In response, the state resorted to endless brutality, but eventually owing to the resilience of the movement, decided to take back the laws and promised to provide fair prices for agricultural produce. This victory came at the cost of immense hardship on the part of the protestors who braved Delhi’s harsh winters. All in all, more than 700 farmers lost their lives in the protest. 

Three years down the line, the farmers are once again protesting since the government failed to deliver on its promises. This time around, state repression is much more brutal with advanced technologies being deployed against the protestors. On their part, the farmers have put out a charter of 12 demands, the most prominent of which is to ensure governmental support in the form of a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all crops. 

In this discussion, we aim to discuss the underlying reasons for agrarian distress and the alarming numbers of farmers’ deaths by suicides in India. We also intend to dwell on the recent farmer’s protests and the state’s brutal response to them in the backdrop of India’s tilt towards enabling corporate intervention and the institutionalization of neoliberal policies at the detriment of the farming communities. For all of this, we are joined by Dr. Sudhir Kumar Suthar who teaches at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India.

Dr. Suthar is one of the leading experts on rural and agrarian Issues in India and is also the founder of the Rural and Agrarian India Network (RAIN) which facilitates the exchange of ideas amongst researchers, civil society practitioners, scholars, students, journalists, bureaucrat, and photographers interested in studying rural and agrarian issues in India. 

For background reading see:

  • Sudhir Kumar Suthar & Manish Kumar, ‘Contemporary Farmers’ Movements in India: Hybrid Political Agenda and Modernisation of Protests’, co-authored with Manish Kumar, Sociological Bulletin (2022).