Two huge protests have rocked India in recent weeks. First, a one day general strike was organised by India’s ten largest trade unions on November 26th. The organisers report 250 million workers out on strike, which would make this one of the largest strikes in history. Several states were forced into complete shutdown by the strike including Kerala, Telangana, Puducherry, Odisha and Assam. The strikers’ demands encompassed calls for both worker and farmer protections, as well as income supports and reversal of moves towards privatisation.
At the same time, farmers were protesting across the country in opposition to three agricultural laws recently passed by the national Government. These nationwide protests were topped off by a march on the capital, Delhi, of an estimated 200-300 thousand farmers. Finding entry to the city barred, the farm protestors subsequently blockaded roads and are continuing to protest at this time, with a day-long hunger strike taking place on Monday 14th December.
Since coming to power in 2014 (and consolidating that power in 2019 elections) India’s far-right Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his BJP party have been attacking worker protections, farmer protections, human rights law and have been trying to whip up anti-Muslim hatred to promote their vision of India as an extreme pro-Capitalist, Hindu nationalist State.
January of this year saw a similar sized national strike against Modi’s economic policies. And widespread protests against the overtly anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act were active up until March, when the Coronavirus pandemic gave Modi’s Government the excuse they needed to clear protestors forcibly.
This latest re-igniting of active protest, even as the pandemic continues, is a sign of the extreme hardship and economic deprivation that Modi and the BJP have been forcing on the people of India. The strength and diversity of these uprisings, with unity across religious, ethnic and caste divisions, is an encouraging sign. This unity will continue to be of paramount importance if the far-right forces trying to reshape India are to be defeated.