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Oxford Students Protest in Solidarity with Indian Farmers in Largest Global Protest in Human History

Students gathered in University Parks today to protest three new agricultural bills that were recently passed by the Indian government and are largely being criticised as anti-farmer. 

These acts, which were signed into bills on the 28th of September, are the following: the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act, the Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and the Essential Commodities Act. Together, these laws decrease government involvement and regulation of the agricultural sector and largely resign it to the free market economic system. 

Contextually, the passing of these laws is quite significant. For decades, the Indian government has offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, providing long-term certainty that allows them to make investments for the next crop cycle. While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims that these new laws will give farmers more autonomy to set their own prices and set directly to private businesses, farmers are arguing that these laws could help big companies drive down prices and it will become easier for corporates, such as business tycoon and owner of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, to exploit agricultural workers. While farmers could sell crops at elevated prices if the demand is there, conversely, they could struggle to meet the minimum price in years when there is too much supply in the market. 

Therefore, for the past few months, farmers predominantly from the states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan have unionised and begun to march towards the capital city of Delhi under the slogan “Delhi Challo” (‘Let’s Go to Delhi’). It is estimated that upwards of 300,000 people have converged at the various entry points into Delhi where they have been met by water cannons and tear gas from police and law enforcement. This protest then made history when, in late November, over 250 million people across the subcontinent participated in a general strike in solidarity of the protests. 

The protest which took place in Oxford’s University Parks was attended by over sixty people despite term ending for undergraduate students last week. Posters and placards at the event read “Repeal Anti-Famer Laws”, “Oppose Anti-Farmer BJP Government” and “They came for Kashmiris, Dalits, Women, and now Farmers. Who’s next?” Honorary guests included one of the directors of the local Oxford Gurudwara, which remains the only Sikh place of worship in Oxford. Students were also seen chanting slogans such as “BJP has got to go” and “Kisan Ekta Zindabad” and various passers-by joined the event.

The Oxford India Society (OIS), which helped organise the protest amongst other societies such as the Oxford Sikh Society and the Oxford South Asian Society (OxSAS) has commented the following:

“The Oxford protest is in unequivocal solidarity with the farmers who have been protesting for the last few months in India. This issue along with others has led to the largest strike in history across the world with an estimated 250 million participants. The Indian government has recently passed 3 laws which farmers believe will threaten price support schemes (known as MSP) and leave them vulnerable to big corporations with little bargaining power. The farmers primary demand is the repeal of these 3 laws. They are also demanding a repeal of another law that increases electricity prices and a different formula to calculate the MSP among other things.

“Our solidarity is all the more necessary considering the undemocratic nature in which the law was passed in Parliament, with no complete consultation stage and a denial of a vote by division amidst chaos (only a voice vote was conducted, with the Opposition unable to record dissent). The protestors have also been met with water cannons and were not allowed the freedom of movement to the capital where they planned to protest- rights inherent to all citizens in democratic India.

“In addition to this, some participants in the protest are likely to highlight this as part of a broader trend of anti-democratic acts by the Indian government- ranging from the detention of activists, intellectuals and students under draconian laws, the reconfiguration of Indian citizenship and interference with private relationships on religious grounds, the destruction of labour protections and more.

A statement has also been written for open signature by anyone affiliated with the University of Oxford including students, staff, faculty and alumni. The statement reads: 

“We, the undersigned students, faculty, staff and alumni of the University of Oxford extend our unconditional support to the demands of protesting farmers in India.

“We strongly believe that the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) have the undesirable effect of leaving the pricing of farm produce and consequently the livelihoods of small farmers at the mercy of big private corporations.

“The fact that the Indian government proposed these laws without prior consultations with farmers, particularly women and Dalit farmers who face intersectional challenges, is fundamentally undemocratic. We are further appalled by the manner in which these laws were passed by the Indian Parliament in haste during a global pandemic and in brazen disregard of parliamentary procedure and the caution that opposition parties sounded. The government’s offer to amend these laws fails to account for the dominant concern that farmers will lose negotiating power in private markets.

“We therefore join Indian farmers in demanding that the Indian parliament repeal these laws with immediate effect and that the Indian government engage in consultations with the farmers and their unions to guarantee MSP for farm produce.

“We also unequivocally condemn the Indian government’s use of force against peacefully protesting farmers, infringing upon their fundamental right to express their opposition to these laws. We demand that the Indian government withdraw the criminal cases registered against peaceful protesters and release them with immediate effect and without making their release illegally contingent upon other factors.  

As of 6pm today, 12th December 2020, the statement has received 135 signatures. The Oxford India Society (OIS) has also offered advice for what Oxford University and its students can do to support the farmer’s protests in India, saying: 

“Members of the university and its students have a privileged position by virtue of association to the university. A group of people have drafted a statement to express solidarity with Indian farmers which would benefit from more members of the university signing it. Approaching your democratic representatives to consider making a statement in any capacity on the issue will also put pressure on the Indian government to act. Reading on the issue and sharing and discussing it among your circles will help in raising consciousness on the issue- and hopefully contribute to a vision of international solidarity where we can support freedom and better living conditions for people everywhere, no matter where they live or what they do.”

Anvee Bhutani is the former Managing Director of The Oxford Blue, having also held a variety of roles on the editorial and business teams. She is a penultimate year student at Magdalen College reading Human Sciences and is originally from San Francisco, California. To reach out to her, please email anvee.bhutani@magd.ox.ac.uk