‘No farmers, no food’: UC Berkeley students rally raises awareness for Indian farmers

photo of a protest
Rachel Barber /Senior Staff
A rally organized by UC Berkeley student organizations protested agricultural laws made by the Indian government and raised support for Indian farmers.

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Dozens of students gathered Tuesday in front of Sather Gate to protest against the Indian government’s agricultural reforms in India.

Students held a large banner that read “India is Killing its Farmers; No farmers No Food.” The protest lasted for two hours and started at 11:30 a.m. At least 50 students showed up, according to protest organizers.

“The slogan ‘No farmers No Food’ reminds us that without the labor of farmers, the nation (India) cannot eat,” said rally organizer and ASUC Senator Mehnaz Grewal. “We must support our farmers in protesting laws that will ensure economic genocide and will endanger their lives in India.”

The rally was organized by the Sikh Student Association, the Jakara Movement Chapter, Bhagat Puran Singh Health Initiative and Grewal’s office. Students also held signs that read “Murderer of Democracy in India” and “Recall the farm bills.”

Last year, the government passed farmers’ laws to minimize government intervention in the farming industry. However, for centuries, most Indian farmers sold their produce to the government market with an assured floor price or minimum set price.

With the new laws, farmers are afraid that private industries will “buy up the crops” and small farmers will no longer be able to support themselves, according to Grewal. The nationwide protest began in Punjab, an Indian state where most families’ livelihoods are supported by the farming industry, and soon spread to other farming states.

Grewal added it has been very difficult for small farmers to get by due to globalization and capitalism. There has also been an epidemic of suicide in India, because farmers are under such stress — they “have never gone to college or done any other professional work, other than farming,” according to Grewal, and so worry they cannot make a livelihood without it.

“It is the largest protest in human history,” said Harvir Kaur, rally organizer, president of the Jakara Movement Chapter and campus sophomore, during the protest.

The government claims the laws allow small farmers to negotiate with private businesses and markets in order to set prices that they want, according to Kaur.

However, private corporations will be able to offer a low amount of money, while farmers are on a “take it or leave it” basis, Kaur added.

“Right now, we are already seeing farmers throwing away tomatoes and cauliflower because the rates that are being offered at market level are just too low to sustain,” Kaur said.

Kaur added Indian farmers have been protesting for a year, but the government has responded by violence and internet blockage.

Cumulatively, the death toll related to the protests amounts to more than 600 people. Farmers continue their efforts, but media coverage of the protests has died down significantly, according to Kaur.

“We are in different countries, it is important to show support,” said campus senior Ameek Bindra during the protest.“It is important that we at the top public institutions show that we care and don’t allow it to happen.”

Protest organizers will soon coordinate a collective fundraiser named “Punjab Berkeley” to raise money to help farmers in India, according to Kaur. They raised $15,000 last year for 5 Rivers Heart Association, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide relief to farmers protesting in India.

Bindra encourages campus students to help raise awareness and watch out for updates on news and donations on social media.

“The more people posting on social media, the better the news can spread out,” Bindra said during the protest.

Contact Winnie Lau at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @winniewy_lau.