At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the disastrous effects of the global neoliberal order, highlighting the need for radical redistributive reforms, India has chosen the opposite path. The three new agricultural laws enacted by the government of Narendra Modi threaten to further liberalise the sector at the expense of landowning farmers, exposing them to greater privatisation and corporate capture. Less attention has been paid, however, to how India’s liberalisation of the agricultural sector will affect rural workers.
Around the world, essential food workers have borne the brunt of the combined ravages of COVID-19 lockdown measures and neoliberal policies, thrusting global food systems into chaos. This paper analyses the effects of these policies in the United States and Italy in an effort to imagine the effect they will soon have on farm workers in India.
The prognosis is bleak. The Indian government is on course to replicate the dual health and economic crises afflicting the global North by enabling rampant corporate capture and withdrawing state support for workers. The main difference, however, is that whereas farm workers represent tiny fractions of the populations of the United States and Italy, in India, they are a sizable percentage of the working class.