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‘Asylum seekers’ fleeing India’s new farm laws

9 July 20210 comments

An increasing number of people are leaving India as asylum seekers and citing the new farm laws of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government as the reason they need to flee.

Reports in the US and Europe have identified the trend saying the laws have heightened political tensions and the repression of ethnic minorities.

In one report a California-based US immigration lawyer,  who deals with South Asian asylum seekers, many of whom are from India, told the local Indian community publication Indica News that “due to the political situation in the country many come to the US seeking asylum”.

He said some of his clients were “impacted by the changes made by the Modi government regarding the farm policy. The present government is not listening to the pain and the majority of my clients are from Punjab and Haryana”.

The lawyer Harsh Chhabra said ten people had contacted him seeking to lodge claims, three of them in the last few weeks.

Germany is also a popular destination for Indian asylum seekers. Around 8,000 have claimed asylum since 2019.

The Indian Government has introduced three new laws that they say will modernise India’s agricultural industries. It says the new laws are much needed reform measures that will boost farmers’ incomes through the participation of the corporate sector.

Observers says the rules will loosen rules around sale, pricing and storage of farm produce – rules that have protected India’s farmers from the free market for decades.

They also allow private buyers to hoard essential commodities for future sales, which only government-authorised agents could do earlier; and they outline rules for contract farming, where farmers tailor their production to suit a specific buyer’s demand.

One of the biggest changes is that farmers will be allowed to sell their produce at a market price directly to private players – agricultural businesses, supermarket chains and online grocers. Most Indian farmers currently sell the majority of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets or mandis at assured floor prices.

The farmers opposed to it say the laws are designed for a corporate takeover of the agriculture sector and to finish off small and marginal farmers.

The move has sparked one of India’s biggest ever protests and a months-long standoff with the government.

Since November, tens of thousands of protesting farmers demanding repeal of the laws have been camping out on highways on the outskirts of Delhi.

Mr Chhabra said that most people from Punjab feel threatened by the government’s moves and are convinced that they will not be able to get the right price for their crops under the new laws and that they will end up losing their land to bigger farmers.

“And the problem ongoing in India is that freedom of the press is not there. If someone is raising any voice, the Modi government says you are anti-national,” he said.

And there have been cases of protesting farmers charged with sedition offences.

India performance as a democracy has slipped over the seven years of Prime Minister Modi’s government, according to the US-based NGO Freedom House’s index which has seen India has been downgraded to a “partially free democracy”.

Sweden’s V-Dem Institute has declared that India has become an “electoral autocracy”, and The Economist Intelligence Unit has described India as a “flawed democracy.”

It has also slipped two places, from 140 to 142, on the World Press Freedom Index since 2014, when Narendra Modi was elected the Prime Minister.