After thousands of farmers were killed, at least one protestor was killed and 80 police officers were injured, many driving tractors, took to the streets of New Delhi on Tuesday and called for the repeal of controversial new agricultural laws.
After months of persistent but peaceful demonstrations on the outskirts of the city, farmers disrupted the city’s National Republic Day holiday, clashed with police, destroyed barricades and blew the 400-year-old landmark from the Red Fort .
On Wednesday, the next day of the chaos, the peasants returned to their camps along the city, promising to continue their demonstrations and return to the city on Monday for a foot march to India’s Parliament.
Who are the protesters?
Many of the protesting farmers are Sikh religious minorities and come from the states of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers rallied in solidarity in other parts of the country.
Since November, thousands of farmers have camped outside New Delhi, the capital, keeping vigil in spreading tent cities and threatening to enter if farm laws are not repealed.
This protest has given rise to the harsh reality of inequality in most parts of the country.
More than 60 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people are still mainly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, although the region accounts for only 15 percent of the country’s economic output. Their dependence has increased after the coronavirus epidemic hit the urban economy badly and sent millions of laborers back to their villages. Over the years, loans and bankruptcies have led farmers to higher rates of suicide.
What do they want
The protesters are challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to resume farming in India.
Demonstrators are demanding that Mr. Modi repeal recent agricultural laws that would reduce the government’s role in agriculture and open more space for private investors. The government says that the new laws will increase farmers and private investment, which will lead to development. But farmers are skeptical, fearing that state removal to protect what they already consider inadequate will leave them at the mercy of greedy corporations.
The government’s support for farmers, including the guarantee of a minimum price for some essential crops, helped India move beyond the hunger crisis of the 1960s. But with India liberalizing its economy in recent decades, Mr. Modi – who wants to nearly double the country’s economy by 2024 – sees such a huge role for the government that it is no longer sustainable.
However, farmers say they are also struggling with the current security. They say that market-friendly laws will eventually end regulatory support and leave them vulnerable, with a weaker economy with less chance of a separate livelihood.
How did the violence erupt?
Thousands of protesting farmers demonstrated in New Delhi on Tuesday, expecting peaceful protests and a military parade by the Prime Minister during the holiday celebrations.
Some farmers broke with the main march and used tractors to remove the police barricades. Many peasants carried long swords, tridents, sharp daggers and fighting axes – if largely ceremonial weapons. Most of the protesters did not wear masks despite the outbreak of Kovid-19 in India.
Police commanders deployed officers carrying assault rifles. They were standing in the middle of the main streets, tear gas swirling around them with their rifles aimed at the crowd. In some areas, as shown in the video footage, police beat the protesters with their sticks and pushed them back.
Farmers claim that violence erupted in an attempt by the government and outside elements to derail their months of peaceful protests.
The farmers waved flags and taunted the officials. They also demolished the Red Fort, the iconic palace that once served as the residence of the Mughal rulers of India, and hoisted the flag that was frequently hoisted on the Sikh temples.
Local television channels showed farmers placing the body of a guard in the middle of a road. He claimed the man was shot, but police said he died when his tractor overturned.
A Home Ministry official confirmed that the Indian government has temporarily suspended Internet services for months.