After thousands of farmers, many tractor-driving farmers took to the streets of New Delhi on Tuesday to call for the repeal of the controversial new agricultural law, at least one protester was killed and 80 policemen were injured.
After months of continuous but peaceful demonstrations on the outskirts of the city, farmers disrupted the city’s National Day holiday, clashed with the police, destroyed roadblocks, and attacked the 400-year-old landmark Red Fort.
On the second day of the chaos, on Wednesday, the farmers returned to the camp on the edge of the city, pledged to continue their protest, and returned to the city on Monday to walk to the Indian Parliament.
Who are the protesters?
Many of the protesting farmers are members of the Sikh religious minorities and come from Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in other parts of the country united in a rally.
Since November, thousands of farmers have set up camps on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi. They have remained vigilant about the booming tent city and threatened not to enter unless the farm law is abolished.
The protests exposed the terrible reality of inequality in most parts of the country.
Of India’s 1.3 billion people, more than 60% of the population still depends on agriculture for their livelihoods, even though this sector only accounts for 15% of the country’s economic output. Their dependence only increased after the coronavirus pandemic severely hit the urban economy and returned millions of workers to their villages. For many years, debts and bankruptcies have kept farmers suicide rates high.
What do they want?
The protesters challenged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reshape India’s agriculture.
The demonstrators asked Mr. Modi to repeal the recent agricultural laws to minimize the government’s role in agriculture and open up more space for private investors. The government stated that the new law will free farmers and private investment and bring growth. But farmers are skeptical. They worry that the removal of national protection measures that they have deemed insufficient will put them at the mercy of greedy companies.
The government’s support to farmers, including guaranteeing minimum prices for certain basic crops, helped India escape the hunger crisis of the 1960s. But with India’s economic liberalization in recent decades, Mr. Modi (who hopes that India’s economy will almost double by 2024) believes that the huge role of the government is no longer sustainable.
However, farmers argue that even with existing protection measures, they are struggling. They say that market-friendly laws will eventually eliminate regulatory support and deactivate them, while the weak economy provides few opportunities to change their livelihoods.
How did the violence break out?
Thousands of protesting farmers poured into New Delhi on Tuesday. It is expected that this will be a peaceful protest during the festival celebrations and a military parade under the supervision of the prime minister.
Some farmers broke into the parade and used tractors to remove the police barricades. Many farmers carry long swords, tridents, sharp daggers and battle axes, which are largely ceremonial weapons. Despite the Covid-19 outbreak in India, most of the protesters did not appear to be wearing masks.
The police commander deployed police officers with assault rifles. They stood in the middle of the main road, aimed their rifles at the crowd, and tear gas swirled around. The video shows that in some areas, police beat protesters with batons to push them back.
The farmers said the violence was provoked by the government and outsiders in order to disrupt their peaceful protests over the past few months.
Farmers waved flags and mocked officials. They also broke through the Red Fort, the iconic palace that was once the residence of the Mughal rulers of India, and hung flags that were often hung on Sikh temples on the walls.
A TV program from a local TV station showed that farmers put the bodies of protesters in the middle of the road. They claimed that the man had been shot, but the police said he was dead when his tractor overturned.
An official from the Ministry of the Interior confirmed that the Indian government has temporarily suspended Internet services in areas that have been the center of protests for months.