Preparing food packages at the farmers protest
Back in January we spoke to Tomy Mathew from Fair Trade Alliance Kerala about how the coop had faired the previous year, how India had been impacted by the pandemic and why thousands of farmers were protesting in the country´s capital.
Several months down the line and tomorrow, 24th April, will be the 150th day of this farmers ´agitation´, an enraged and passionate outcry over the attempted passing of three bills that would strip them of the few rights they have. This happens to coincide with a brutal second wave of Covid that has brought the nation almost to its knees. 15 million cases have been recorded, second only to the USA and on 21st April it had the world´s highest daily rise of 295,000 cases.
But whilst this shocking new outbreak and the new lockdown rules makes the stakes even higher for the farmers, labourers and migrant workers that have gathered in Delhi, there is no sign of them willingly backing down until their demands have been met. 325 farmers have already lost their lives during the protests in incidents unrelated to Covid. For them, the decision by the government over these laws is a matter of life or death – “it is not viable for us to return to normal life under these circumstance”, explains Tomy.
Modi´s government have recently fallen out of international favour due to a number of decisions, including these farming legislations, that have been widely scrutinised and brought into the mainstream with even the likes of Rihanna tweeting about it . During our brief catch-up, Tomy reiterated his abhorrence towards the current government, their lack of empathy, corruption and the use of a new xenophobic rhetoric.
But, despite risks from Covid and threats from the government, the protestors are not prepared to give in. They are doing their best to maintain a forceful presence whilst protecting those involved and those now stuck in the capital due to lockdown restrictions. With the potential forced removal of current protestors by government, according to Tomy, more are on standby to take their place. “We will maintain rather than add to the numbers”. And with 41.49% of the 1.36 billion population being employed by the agricultural sector, there is plenty of back up.
Food packages are also being offered, face masks are used as often as possible, the planned march on parliament has been postponed and instead of more people coming to the city, farmers and supporters are holding solidarity protests across the country. FTAK have been heavily involved in showing unrelenting support from a distance including holding the Seed Satyagraha March in solidarity with the farm protests, lighting candles along the way in honour of the farmers who lost their lives at the protest site.
But of course there continues to be risk and the government is using this as the driving force to break up this monumental, historical act of defiance from a previously powerless population. But Tomy offers an alternative:
“This is a golden opportunity for the government to climb down from it´s high horse of obstinance by withdrawing the laws.”
150 days in and it is still unclear how it will come to a head but the migrant workers, labourers and farmers are remaining strong and we are in full support of them.