Source: The Nation
On February 20, an estimated 50,000 agricultural workers donned red pointed caps, or topis, and began a 110-mile protest march through the state of Maharashtra, in west-central India. Landless laborers, members of tribal communities, and farming families traveled from village to village singing traditional songs. The All India Kisan Sabh (AIKS), a 16-million-member peasant-led coalition organized the protest, and hoped the journey would deliver a message to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party: After years of broken promises, it was time for the government to meet their demands.
For more than a decade, smallholder farmers had called for a one-time waiver on their loans and for the government to raise the minimum-support price for crops.
Many of India’s farmers have endured long periods of drought and been saddled with crippling loans from predatory lenders. More than half of India’s 90.2 million farming households are stuck in cycles of debt. Over the last 20 years, official records have logged more than 300,000 farmer suicides. The statistics show the rates steadily rising before the government suddenly stopped reporting the numbers after 2016.
From summer 2017 and into this year, there have been a series of farmer rallies that have drawn tens of thousands of protesters. But with the national elections that go from April 11 to May 19, agricultural workers are seizing the moment to use their votes as leverage to extract concessions.