Timeline: Indian farmers’ yearlong protests against farm laws

Indian PM announces he would repeal the controversial laws as the sudden concession comes ahead of elections in critical states.

Farmers celebrate after India’s Modi announces repeal of three farm laws that sparked almost a year of huge protests across the country, in Amritsar, Punjab state [Narinder Nanu/AFP]

Farmers in India have protested for more than a year against laws passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow farmers to sell produce directly to bulk buyers and make contract farming easier.

In a significant climbdown, Modi on Friday announced he would repeal the controversial laws.

The sudden concession comes ahead of elections early next year in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and two other northern states with large rural populations.

Here is a timeline of events around the passing of the laws and the escalating protests:

June 2020: Three emergency executive orders are introduced, which Modi’s cabinet says are aimed at giving farmers the freedom to sell directly to institutional buyers such as big trading houses, large retailers and food processors.

September 17: India’s lower house of Parliament passes the orders. Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigns, calling the legislation “anti-farmer”.

September 18: Modi defends the new legislation, saying it will “unshackle” millions of farmers and help them get better prices.

September 20: Parliament passes the bills, despite growing protests from opposition parties, who say farmers’ bargaining power will be diminished.

September 24: Farmers from some of India’s big northern heartland states – key producers of wheat and rice – block railway tracks. Bigger demonstrations are held across the country the next day, with growers blocking highways leading to the capital New Delhi with trucks, tractors and combine harvesters.

November 30: Modi resists calls to repeal the laws, dismissing as misplaced fears the government will eventually abolish the wholesale markets.

December 1: In talks lasting several hours, ministers and representatives of the protesting farmers fail to break a deadlock over the farm laws.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks of the protests in a video message, saying his government had reached out to Indian authorities. In response, India’s foreign ministry said Canadian leaders were “ill-informed”.

December 7: Thousands stage protests and block traffic, converge on the Indian embassy and march around the Trafalgar Square area in central London over the Indian reforms. Police arrest 13 over breaches of COVID-19 regulations.

December 8: Protests spread across India, as farm organisations call for a nationwide strike after inconclusive talks with the government.

December 16: A 65-year-old Sikh priest commits suicide at one of the protest sites.

December 17: The protests expand to the Sikh diaspora, with 250 to 300 Sikhs and other Indians taking part in a rally in Melbourne. Protests take place over a few days in nearly 50 different cities around the world.

December 21: Farmers’ leaders begin a 24-hour relay hunger strike. More than 30 protesters camping out in the open on key national highways have died, mainly due to the cold with temperatures falling to 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), farmer leaders said.

Farmers stand next to a fire as they warm themselves on a cold winter morning at the site of a protest against new farm laws, at Singhu border near New Delhi [File: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

January 12, 2021: India’s Supreme Court orders an indefinite stay on the implementation of the new agricultural laws, saying it wanted to protect farmers and would hear their objections.

January 26: Farmers overwhelm police and storm into New Delhi’s historic Red Fort complex after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks. Police fire tear gas in an unsuccessful bid to force the protesters back. One protester was killed, a witness said, and Delhi police said 86 officers had been injured across the city.

February 2: Singer Rihanna tweets using the hashtag #FarmersProtest, saying: “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” Others follow, including Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris, niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris. India’s foreign ministry slams the comments, urging a proper understanding of the issues at hand.

February 15: Politicians and activists condemn the arrest of Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old climate campaigner accused of sedition for helping edit an online document Sweden’s Greta Thunberg had promoted in support of the protesting farmers. She is later granted bail, a court saying there was “scanty and sketchy evidence” of sedition in her efforts.

July 22: Farmers start a sit-in at Jantar Mantar, a large Mughal-era observatory near Parliament in New Delhi, renewing a push for the repeal.

September 5: More than 500,000 farmers gather in Uttar Pradesh state, the biggest rally yet in a months-long series of demonstrations.

November 19: Modi says he will repeal the controversial laws.

Source: Reuters