Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
With the news concentrating so much on domestic crises like the impending no-deal Brexit and botched COVID-19 response it is very easy to forget about the wider world we live in. The world keeps turning and crises are unfolding in parts of the world it is often too easy to ignore. Over the past few weeks, India has seen the biggest organised strike in human history, with over 250 million going on strike. Major cities like New Delhi and Kolkata have ground to a halt and the police have been brutally repression many of the peaceful protestors.
So how did the country get to this point?
India is currently ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is a conservative Hindu nationalist party headed by Narendra Modi. The BJP have been in power under Modi since 2014 and he has represented a major shift in Indian politics making it significantly more personalised and populist. During election time Modi presents himself as the only answer to India’s problems, with many voting for him on the back of personal popularity rather than party policies. This is the so-called ‘Modi Effect’ which follows the recent global trend of right-wing populist leaders getting elected for office. The rise of Hindu nationalism has impacted the religious minorities in the country, with Muslims’ rights being suppressed to the largest extend. This can most clearly be seen by Modi’s actions towards the Muslim Majority regions of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 – revoking the region of their constitutional special status.
In addition to religious suppression, India has faced an economic crisis in recent decades which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2019, 10% of the population were living under the global poverty line, with just $1.90 a day. The nation went into lockdown in March, along with much of the world, and in 2020 their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has dropped by 23.9% and unemployment has soared to 27%.
This is the backdrop of resentment against the government that helped to prompt the huge strikes over the last weeks. The final straw was Modi’s three new agricultural laws which aimed at overhauling food grain procurement and pricing standards by allowing private companies greater access. The government claimed this would allow farmers to increase their revenue, but all of the strikers want these laws repealed as well as the implementation of welfare schemes for agricultural workers. These strikes have been able to gain so much traction as 40% of India’s population work in the agrarian sector which is characteristically plagued by underdevelopment and poverty. More than 200 different farmers’ groups collaborated to orchestrate the strikes, and they were joined by student, feminist and civil society groups.
In addition to this, 5000 nurses and paramedic staff went on indefinite strike demanding better pay, the abolition of gender-based recruitment and improvements to hospital accommodation for workers. It is truly telling of the desperation people feel when they are forced to take such evasive action during a time of global crisis to fight government policies.
There have been six rounds of talks between workers’ groups and the government but there is yet to be any kind of agreement. The Modi government has a lot to answer for and the resolve of the strikers is so strong after years of perceived ineffective government.