The following is a lightly edited transcription from The Punch Out with Eugene Puryear, a daily news podcast that comes out Monday through Friday, 5pm ET. Subscribe here.
On Monday, Indian farmers and their supporters engaged in a “bharat bandh” — akin to a general strike — with a range of protests, sit-ins and road and rail blockages, seeking to shut down as much of the country’s daily economic activity as possible. They are continuing their protest against three anti-farmer laws being pushed by the far-right, hyper capitalist government of Narendra Modi and his ruling party, the BJP.
The call to action was called by the SKM, an umbrella of farmers’ organizations, and formally supported by most political parties in the country, except the BJP, and backed by the state governments in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab.
As progressive news organization Peoples Dispatch detailed: “There was an almost shutdown in Punjab with transport services staying suspended and shops, commercial establishments and educational institutions remaining shut at most places during the [strike] … in neighbouring Haryana too, the [strike] evoked a good response at many places where shops, educational institutions, commercial establishments and ‘mandis’ [markets] remained shut.”
NewsClick also noted: “The protesters also squatted on railway tracks at many places in the two states. However, in view of the inconvenience faced by passengers, some farmers and other volunteers organised [community kitchens] serving food to them.”
In Tamil Nadu, 50,000 demonstrated and in the major city of Kolkata, all the major highways into the city were blocked for a large portion of the day.
The overwhelming response to the strike call shows just how elemental the struggle is for the lives of rural people. The basic thrust of the situation is this: currently in India there is a minimum price that farmers are guaranteed for their produce, and even with that, many farmers find it difficult to make ends meet. Half of farmers are in debt, for instance, and, on average, a farm household receives half of its income from wage labor on top of their farming activities.
This situation is already untenable but the government’s proposal would eliminate the minimum prices and allow free reign for traders to manage the buying and selling of grain. Ultimately since there are limited numbers of buyers, this makes it easier for traders to force peasants to accept lower prices than the current minimum prices, because — what else can they do? So farmers rightfully understand the laws as being designed to drive them further into poverty while enriching the grain traders and big companies buying their products.
The overall message of the demonstrations was a clear refutation of government propaganda that the farmers’ protest had ground to a halt, and was confined just to a small group of farmers in two states. It showed that the farmers’ fight remains a major catalyst for social struggle in the country more broadly, that it continues to have resonance with all the struggles taking place in India against the BJP government across the board.
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Eugene Puryear is a longtime journalist and community organizer currently-based in New York City. Eugene helped to organize a number of the large-scale demonstrations that took place against the continuing U.S. war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, he was a key leader In the struggle to free the Jena Six in 2007, and a founder of the anti-gentrification group Justice First, the Jobs Not Jails coalition, DC Ferguson Movement and Stop Police Terror Project-D.C. Puryear is the author of the book Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America, and spent five years in radio prior to helping found BT News.