Photos: Tear gas and rubber bullets as Indian farmers march on Delhi

Shambhu border, India – Thousands of farmers have gathered on the outskirts of India’s capital, New Delhi, to set out demands for guaranteed minimum prices for their crops, debt relief and policy reforms.

The protests are being led by more than 250 farmer unions, including the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (a platform which represents more than 150 unions) and the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), which has the backing of more than 100 unions. With participants arriving far and wide from states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the protests are being coordinated from Punjab and are gaining support that transcends state boundaries.

Starting on Tuesday this week, the farmers are marching towards New Delhi with their tractors and trucks in tow. In an attempt to halt the march, the Indian authorities have placed barriers, nails and other heavy machinery along the highways that run towards the capital. During one attempt by demonstrators to demolish barricades at Shambhu village on the Punjab-Haryana border, the Haryana police responded by firing rounds of tear gas to scatter them. Haryana borders New Delhi, and is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

These protests are a continuation of demonstrations in and on the outskirts of New Delhi which took place two years ago. They lasted for more than a year, during which time more than 600 people were killed during violent crackdowns by the authorities. Following the government’s agreement to rescind three agricultural reform laws that the farmers objected to, the protests were called off. Other demands they had made, however, were not met – and these issues have flared up again.

Demands for a strong system to set minimum support prices (MSP) to protect farmers from market fluctuations are at the core of the protest. The protesters are also demanding debt relief and restraints on the privatisation of the power industry. “I was here last time for the whole duration. We are here again because the promises made have not been fulfilled, for example, the MSP. When they formed the government, they promised to waive off the loans, but that did not happen. They promised to deliver justice in the case of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident [when protesting farmers were rammed by a car and killed in October 2021],” Sukvindra Kaur, 55, from Bathinda, Punjab told Aljazeera.

“We were forced to hit the roads again over the same demands,” she added. “The promises made by the present government have to be fulfilled by them, and tomorrow if there is any new government, why would they fulfil our demands? We never wanted to do it but farmers are committing suicide; they have huge loans. We are here to save them.”

Another farmer, Dharam Singh Sidhu, 60, vice president of Kissan Sangash Samiti for Ferozepur, Punjab, called the teargassing of farmers and the firing of rubber bullets at the protesters “undemocratic”.

“Under democracy, everyone has the right to protest peacefully, but despite moving peacefully, they are barricading, shelling and opening fire at us. No farmers are engaging in any unlawful activity; we are protesting peacefully,” Sidhu said.

The timing of the protest ahead of impending elections in the next few months highlights the political significance of despair among farmers, who make up a sizeable voting bloc in the country.

Source link