Since the Narendra Modi government passed the three farm laws, for well over a year, the opposition to them has been one of the most visible and sustained protest movements in contemporary India. The protests, with their sweep and persistence, have come to carry the hopes of various groups, each with its own expectations. Many of these expectations have to do with issues that were never part of the movement’s mandate. The government’s vast propaganda machinery, which includes almost all of the mainstream media, has fed these expectations and, by exaggerating every misstep, worked to widen rifts between the movement and such groups. This has subjected the protests to standards that are impossible to live up to in practice.
The lynching of Lakhbir Singh at the Singhu protest site has once again put these dynamics, including the issue of caste, into sharp focus. Lakhbir, from a Dalit community of converts to Sikhism, was mutilated and murdered in mid October, allegedly by Nihang Sikhs who accused him of desecrating a religious text.
In light of this incident, it is worth reiterating what the protests do represent. Their target is the corporatisation of agriculture proposed under the new laws, whose impact I discussed in detail in the March issue of this magazine. The laws have met their strongest challenge in areas where agriculture is organised and sustainable under the current model of government procurement, which provides farmers a modicum of financial security. This is roughly the belt that extends from Punjab to western Uttar Pradesh, where land is largely owned and farmed by the Jutt Sikh and Hindu Jat farmers who have best adapted to the government incentives offered in the course of India’s Green Revolution.