Punjabi Farmers

By Tashi Lhamo

Our everyday household items are very crucial to our routines, from our morning breakfast to our dinner. Goods such as rice, lentils, spices, and cotton are all exported from India. India produces 70% of the world’s spices while also being the largest producer of rice, lentils, and cotton, states the India Brand Equity Foundation. Farmers that grow these products in India come from a generational Punjabi farmer background. India has passed laws that help large corporations and hurt local farmers. Farmers were outraged thus leading to the biggest protest in history from people protesting worldwide. However, the peaceful protest of the Punjabis has only led to them getting violent responses from the Indian government through the use of tear gas and hands-on action.

Before continuing, it is noteworthy to know the history behind these farmers to understand their circumstances. It had all started when India was a new nation and free from British rule. As a new nation that had become used to having a ruler for the last two centuries, India faced famine, and to combat it, they used the green revolution program in 1966. CNN explains that the program used new technologies, irrigation systems, chemicals, and engineered seeds and the Punjabi farmers come into the story as they were put under this program. Although the program helped to calm down the famine, over time, it had only seemed to exaggerate the issues that lay between the farmers and the government. Farmers were not guaranteed profit, and the cost to produce in many cases overrode the profit made. Disturbingly, according to the Punjab Agricultural University, 8 out of 10 farmers have debt.

The government states that they work in favor of the farmers however, they do not protect these family-owned farms from giant corporations. Malkit Singh, a member of the Sher Singh Wala village and many others believe that the government continues to pass reforms that inevitably harm them. Not to mention the strict seed policies that further put these farmers in debt. These seed policies do not allow farmers to keep extra seeds for the following year. The government has been exploiting these farmers for decades while also ignoring the dangers. The technologies from the green revolution program have been found to increase the rates of cancer. It is alarming that, in villages like Sher Singh Wala in the northern state of Punjab, 18 people fall ill with cancer every day. Skyrocketing cancer in the community has been linked to the harsh chemicals and pesticides as well as contaminated water used in these very farms. Singh commented in the Pri radio, “The overall responsibility goes to the government, and the people are also responsible because they have not made an issue of it”. Many seem to agree with Singh as the government had failed to notice this pattern until the social groups sent letters to the Punjabi government. Many families cannot afford the medications needed for treatment as pharmacies are allowed to sell medicine for ten times the original price of 20,000 rupees ($400) a month due to the lack of regulation according to the Pri radio program.

The lack of support from the government, debt, and super high price tags for medications have all caused a Punjabi farmer to commit suicide every 30 minutes according, to studies conducted by the New York University in 2011 reported by Forbes. The Suicide rates led up to mass protests around the world as Punjabi farmers and allies have started calling for justice. Farmers have been blocking major entry points of the capital (Delhi) while removing police barricades. BBC covered the moment when the whole world’s spark ignited when viral images had been passed around as police repeatedly hit elders with batons and tear-gassed protesters. The Indian police violently injured respected elders and peaceful protestors which has only worsened the situation. Large groups of communities in countries such as Canada have been holding up banners in the freezing streets in support of the generational farmers according to Aljazeera news. Social media and Generation Z have continued spreading information, and while educating the young impressionable demographic, many people have also stepped into organizing fundraisers. These organizers have raised substantial funds, the Guru Nanak Langar Sewa Society has raised $90,000 worldwide alone within a window of 2 months on a go fund me page. 

Local Punjabi farmers that produce most of the world’s staple home goods are heavily affected by the reforms passed as well as the lack of regulations by the Indian government. These farmers request aid as they drown in debts and lack healthcare. Unprecedented times have led to high numbers of suicide per day. People around the world can also help by taking part in the movement whether it be protesting in your city, signing petitions, donating on go fund me, or letting your area know about the situations that these farmers are doomed with.

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