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Baljit Kaur, 50 has been farming most of her life in Punjab, India. For her, cultivating her crops and tending to the land is a blessing and goes beyond simply being a profession – it is in her blood.
On a normal day, Baljit would be spending long hours in the fields, carefully sowing her seeds and preparing for the harvest. The work is not easy, but she is dedicated to it. Today, however, she is not in her fields – she is on the outskirts of the Indian capital New Delhi at the Tikri border, where she and many other farmers – female and male – have travelled for hundreds of kilometres to protest against new farming laws passed in September.
“We are protesting for our land, against the kali kanoon [black law] that Modi has introduced,” Baljit says. She fears the new laws will jeopardise the ownership of land that has remained in her family for generations, and she is determined to set this right.
The farmers worry that the three laws, designed to deregulate the agricultural sector, do not include a Minimum Support Price (MSP), a minimum price guaranteed by the government at which farmers can sell their crops. Without this safety net, farmers fear they will have to participate in contract farming with private corporations, where these companies determine what the farmer grows and the price they sell at. The laws also remove restrictions on companies buying land and stockpiling goods.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi argues that these laws will modernise the agricultural sector, farmers insist that without a guarantee of an MSP, opening the market to contract farming and mass privatisation will pave the way for exploitation of already vulnerable groups.
The protests against these new laws have gained momentum over the past few weeks. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have marched from the three main farming states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to set up camp at Delhi’s Singhu and Tikri borders, main entry points to the nation’s capital.
Despite officials’ attempts to deter protesters from entering the city, the farmers’ agitation shows no signs of abating. Their demands are simple: repeal the laws.