Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has apologised to farmers and promised to reverse controversial laws which triggered some of the largest and longest protests the nation has ever seen.

Key points:

  • Indian Prime Minister Modi has apologised and promised to revoke controversial farm laws
  • Protesters say the will remain in camps outside New Delhi until the laws are officially revoked
  • The Indian community around the world has been sending money to families on the protest frontline 

But farmers insist they will not stop protesting until the laws are reversed in Parliament.

When Mr Modi introduced three controversial farm laws seeking to industrialise agriculture in his country in September last year, the reaction was swift and enormous.

Thousands of farmers from the north Indian regions of Punjab and Haryana drove their tractors to the streets of New Delhi to peacefully protest the new bills.

More than a year later, the farmers are still in the protest camps.

Tejbir Singh Kadyan is a senior protester for his district Jhajjar.

He and his family have been part of the protest since the beginning.

A line up of different coloured tents on a highway with people walking past.

Farmers put up makeshift tents as more of them return to protest new farm laws.(AP: Manish Swarup)

However, it would seem the farmers are on the cusp of victory.

On November 19, Mr Modi apologised for the bills and asked the Indian people for forgiveness.

Despite the U-turn from India’s Prime Minister, Mr Singh Kadyan remains sceptical.

“All the farmers they want self-dependent they don’t want free money or rebates from the government … they want that as a law and that’s when they’ll stop the protest,” Mr Singh Kadyan said.

Farm laws aimed to redirect workers to manufacturing

Senior Lecturer of Asian Politics at the University of Melbourne Pradeep Taneja said despite the complexity of the three laws, the ultimate end goal is to industrialise India’s agricultural industry.

That would mean many family farms would be commercialised and farmers would be pushed towards the major cities to work in manufacturing.

“The government thinking behind this is to relieve the [agricultural] workforce so India can actually offer cheaper labour to both Indian and foreign companies in the manufacturing industry,” Dr Taneja said.

The agricultural sector of India employs up to 50 per cent of the population, but only accounts for approximately 15 per cent of its overall economy. 

Farmers in white and red flood a street in New Delhi.

Thousands of farmers marched to demand higher prices for their produce and a government waiver on their farm loans to alleviate hardships.(AP: Altaf Qadri)

“No country has gone from being a predominantly agricultural country to an industrialised country with such a high proportion of the workforce being employed in agriculture” Dr. Taneja explained.

Dr Taneja says the significance of Mr Modi’s most recent announcement is a massive turning point for India.

“Prime Minister Modi, ever since he came to power in 2014 … is not someone who apologises easily. He’s not someone who goes back in the face of protest.

Australian-Indian community back protesting relatives

As the movement in New Delhi heated up, it spurred several smaller protests and aid work among the Indian diaspora in countries like the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

More than 8,500 kilometres away, 31-year-old Nitin Kadyan has been supporting his family from Alice Springs, where he’s lived for a decade.

He says it has not been easy for him or his community to be in Australia with the protest being so close to his home.

“Mentally its stressful because so many people are dying … [and] living in harsh conditions. Then you listen to family about how they are living up there, especially the old people,” Mr Kadyan said.

Despite being so far away from his family protesting, Mr Kadyan and other members of the Indian community across the Northern Territory have turned to fundraising through the local Sikh temple.

Protesters of the controversial farm acts. 

Local members of the Alice Springs Sikh community protesting the controversial farm acts.  (Supplied: Alice Springs Sikh Community)

“I do send money back to my family from my own pocket whenever they need … especially if there’s an emergency like someone in hospital.

Although Mr Modi’s recent concessions seem like a victory for the protesters, in New Delhi, Mr Kadyan says the mistrust between the farmers and their leader runs deep.

“That’s just an announcement; they’re waiting until the Parliament session starts which is end of this month and they actually revoke them as a law in Parliament,” he said.

“Until then they’re not [going to stop the protest].”

Posted , updated 

Protesting Indian farmers won’t budge until new laws revoked
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