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Illustration by Security Management

Farmer Protests Against Deregulation in India Continue to Grow

Thousands of women joined farmers on the outskirts of Delhi, India, today in the latest evolution of a protest that has lasted since December. Nearly 20,000 women, dressed in bright yellow scarves to represent mustard fields, took the spotlight on Monday to mark International Women’s Day. They demanded that the Indian government scrap new laws that would open up agriculture produce markets to private buyers—potentially undercutting a longstanding market structure that supported farmers by regulating prices, Reuters reported.

India says the reforms will bring private investment into the farming sector, improving supply chains and cutting waste by cutting out the middleman. However, farmers and their unions fear that big corporations will take advantage of the new system by dropping produce prices.

The women protesting today say that the deregulation could exacerbate existing challenges that women farmers face in India, including exploitation and discrimination.

According to the New York Times, more than 60 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihoods. Their reliance only increased after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, sending millions of city laborers back to their home villages.

On 6 March, the protesters marked their 100th day of protests against the market deregulation by blocking a six-lane expressway outside New Delhi for five hours. Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped out since December—many of them with their families. The protests have been mostly peaceful, but on 26 January, protesters stormed a New Delhi landmark, the Red Fort. Subsequent clashes led to the death of a protester and the injury of 300 police officers, Al Jazeera reported.

Police have been building barricades around protest sites and camps, and Internet or social media access have been cut off.

So far, protesters and the government have been unable to reach an agreement, despite several rounds of negotiations, and harvest season is approaching. However, the protesting farmers say they have no plans to turn back until their demands are met—namely, the repeal of the new farming law.