Fed up with the "anti-people policies" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government, tens of thousands of farmers and workers in India brought central Delhi to a standstill on Wednesday in a huge demonstration to demand higher wages, debt waivers, and other economic reforms.
The protests, marked by crowds of protesters wearing red and carrying red flags lining the entire stretch of Parliament Street, came ahead of next year's general elections and at the end of a summer when Indians struggled to live on stagnant wages and farmers faced barely-rising prices on the produce they provide to their communities.
What is India? This is India, Mr @narendramodi - the India of industrial and agricultural workers and farmers. Take a good look. #KisanMazdoorFightBack. #MazdoorKisanSangharshRally @KisanSabha @cpim @VijooKrishnan pic.twitter.com/AWl98gcr8F
— Vijay Prashad (@vijayprashad) September 5, 2018
Sea of red flags from Parliament street and beyond ConnaughtPlace. Worker peasant agricultural worker Unity Zindabad. Thousands on the way.pic.twitter.com/5iuMo740B1
— subhashini ali (@SubhashiniAli) September 5, 2018
Demonstrators expressed anger at Modi, who promised during his 2014 campaign to tackle the country's high unemployment rate among young people, affecting more than 10 percent of 15 to 24 year olds at the time. Last year 10.5 percent of young Indians were still in need of jobs.
"This historic rally...demanding better wages, more jobs, better prices for farm produce, end to privatization, stopping changes in labor laws, marks a new stage in the struggle of working people," the Communist Party of India said in a statement. The party led the protest along with the left-wing Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), and All-India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU).
In a column for Common Dreams on Wednesday, Vijay Prashad, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, summarized the demands of the protesters:
The agricultural workers and farmers ask a simple question: shouldn’t the state provide land, credit and fair prices to protect those who work the land from the irrational destruction of agriculture by monopoly firms?
Farmers repeated calls, made in protests earlier this year, for loan forgiveness, a minimum income, and higher crop prices.
Loan waivers were the subject of another major protest in June, where demonstrators decried the harsh treatment of indebted farming families—making up more than half of farm owners in India.
"It is about lack of viability in farming, accentuated by climate change, whereby farmers land up in a constant debt economy," Kavitha Kuruganti, of the farmers' advocacy group ASHA, told Al Jazeera at the time. "While a whole lot of things make the situation difficult to deal with (falling incomes, crop losses, etc.), the immediate trigger for farmer suicides is often the pressure from creditors to repay, where 'naming and shaming' happens, or property is seized, etc."
"The main question remains as to whether the elected government stands with the common people or with the corporates," Sumesh Naranikkal, a construction worker, told Indian Express. "Farmers are the lifeline of the country, but our government is working in favor of the corporates. It waives off the loans of big corporates, but leaves no stone unturned in coercing the farmers for the recovery of loans."