Why the Indian farmers’ protest is a welfare issue

meIt’s not uncommon these days for people in North America to follow Ayurvedic diets, add spices to their chai, or use herbs like ashwagandha as adaptogens to stay energized. With a global market value of $4.15 trillion, wellness has never been more popular, but what is the point of “being well” if the farmers who grow these “trendy” herbs and spices are being harmed?

For more than three months, tens of thousands of farmers in India have been protesting three new agricultural laws that they say are unfair and harmful to small farmers. The reforms will relax rules on the sale, price and storage of agricultural products, rules that have protected Indian farmers from the risks and fluctuations of the free market for decades. The reforms would create a national framework that would allow farmers the option to sell to private buyers outside the long-standing framework. mandi system: government-controlled wholesale markets with guaranteed minimum prices. The aim of the farm bills is to give farmers more choice, but as the BBC reports, “Farmers are primarily concerned that this will eventually lead to the end of wholesale markets and price locks, leaving them without a backup option. . That is, if they are not satisfied with the price offered by a private buyer, they cannot go back to the mandi or use it as a bargaining chip during negotiations.”

The largest of these protests, led by farmers from Haryana and Punjab, have been going on since November, with thousands of farmers camping on roads outside New Delhi. Since then, police have reportedly hit protesters with tear gas and water cannons, blocked access to water and portable toilets, and erected metal and wire barricades around the protest site. Journalists and activists have also been arrested, threatening the right to freedom of the press and to peaceful demonstration. One of these activists, Nodeep Kaur, a Punjabi Dalit woman already facing difficulties due to caste discrimination, was allegedly sexually assaulted and tortured while she was in jail.

For those of us in the Punjabi diaspora in North America, like myself, we have been watching the news with immense sadness and anger to witness these farmers, many of whom are elderly, spending the cold winter sleeping outside and peacefully protesting while support human rights crimes. Agriculture is the crux of our identity as a Punjabi people and being a farmer is revered in our culture. Although we no longer live in Punjab, our connection to our homeland has become ingrained in us through the knowledge and teachings of our parents and grandparents and has been strengthened through our community, food, stories and traditions, including continuing to work agricultural in the diaspora. It has been difficult to watch these historic and pivotal protests unfold from afar with little acknowledgment from the “mainstream” of our adopted home.

How does this relate to the wellness industry? Our worlds are more connected than you think. In 2019 (data for the most recent year is available), the United States imported $271 million worth of spices from India. This means that many herbs and spices like turmeric and ginger, commonly sold in the wellness space in the form of lattes, elixirs, and healing remedies, were cultivated by Indian farmers. The demand for spice exports increased during the pandemic, and the Indian government bragged about it due to the famed immune-supporting powers of these ingredients. It’s not just spices; rice, cotton, and essential oils are also the top US imports of Indian products. Forty-one percent of India’s workforce is employed in agriculture and even before the protests, the country’s farmers have faced more insidious struggles such as a suicide crisis and the largely invisible work of women. farmers and workers. Ultimately, what Indian farmers go through directly impacts the wellness industry, and as such, their struggles should matter to those who have benefited from their work.

“We are at a point where we can no longer spiritually overlook and ignore the impact of our consumption of sacred practices, wisdom, herbs or foods from indigenous communities.” —Navdeep Kaur Gill, Ayurvedic physician

“The people who provide us with these things also deserve to have wellness,” says Navdeep Kaur Gill, an Ayurvedic practitioner from Canada. Her December Instagram post drew attention to the fact that without Indian farmers, people wouldn’t have such easy access to turmeric for their lattes.

Additionally, Indian culture and traditions have long benefited (and enriched) the global wellness community. People around the world have sought out wellness practices rooted in Indian tradition, such as Ayurvedic medicine, meditation, and yoga, for their reputation for supporting their quest for a holistic, balanced, and spiritual life. In the pursuit of our own well-being, there must be a concerted effort and social responsibility to use our privilege to ensure the well-being of others.

For South Asian practitioners like Harjit Kaur*, a yoga student and teacher in California for 20 years, their work has always intersected with activism. They have had to reclaim their space in the Western wellness industry from which they have been largely erased. The peasant protests, they say, is an opportunity for the welfare industry and the people who use these practices to show solidarity, as Justice for Migrant Women and 75 other organizations did in an open letter in the New York Times.

“I think Western yogis should challenge their teachers as far as they can and ask them where they stand on this issue, and on castism, fascism and authoritarianism,” says Kaur. “Why do these old farmers see this fight as their last bastion against tyranny?” Conversations like these with your yoga teachers are an opportunity to put your practice into action and, depending on the conversation, they may tell you if it’s time to find a new teacher.

Wellness does not occur in a vacuum; all our practices must include activism. “We are at a point where we can no longer spiritually overlook and ignore the impact of our consumption of sacred practices, wisdom, herbs or foods from indigenous communities,” says Gill, including those in India. “Equitable welfare has to intersect with our collective activism.”

To get started, find out where your spices and other products come from and whether they’re ethically sourced. Seek out teachers (ideally those from the same cultural background as the practice itself) who are committed to equity and teaching in a decolonized way. Urge wellness companies and publications to set aside power and comfort so that Black, Indigenous and Color (BIPOC) professionals have opportunities to be leaders and experts in the teaching practices of their lineage. In those actions, we can better align our individual well-being with the well-being of others for the betterment of all of us.

For more information on how you can support farmers in India, please visit: https://farmerprotests.carrd.co

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons

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