Farmers’ protests in India: introduction to the JPS Forum
Since the summer of 2020, Indian farmers have been protesting three laws that aim to liberalize agricultural markets and encourage contract farming. In doing so, they have also mounted the largest challenge to an authoritarian Hindu nationalist government to date. The contributions to this JPS Forum provide deep and diverse insights into these farmer protests, including their social composition and political character, as well as their roots in long-term transformations in markets, ecology, and agrarian—and non-agrarian—political economy. In this introduction, we put these contributions into dialogue with older debates in JPS over India’s ‘new farmers’ movements,’ which reached their zenith in the 1980s, in order to throw into relief what has changed in rural India and in agrarian studies over the subsequent decades. We argue that the polarized terms of the earlier debates—between Marxists and populists—are no longer adequate for the transformed agrarian milieu of the twenty-first century, which is increasingly defined by agrarian distress, ecological crisis, semi-proletarianization and diversification of occupations amidst jobless and exclusionary growth. This new agrarian reality, combined with the significance of the protests in challenging an authoritarian regime, helps to explain not only the broad coalition behind the current farmers’ protests, but their far more sympathetic treatment by agrarian scholars.