Indian farmers brave tear gas as they protest ‘black laws’ | India


Thousands of farmers were arrested by police as they tried to march to the Indian capital as part of their Dilli chalo (Go to Delhi) protest new legislation passed by the right-wing government which they believe will limit their income and benefit big business.Police in neighboring New Delhi’s Haryana state, ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), used tear gas and water cannons to disperse farmers who attempted to march to New Delhi in foot, in buses and tractors, NDTV news channel reported.

At one site, farmers retaliated by throwing bricks and pushing back barricades.

After a two-hour standoff, police finally allowed protesters to continue towards the capital.

The national capital’s borders have been sealed and metro services in several areas have been closed, with police saying no gatherings were allowed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Police block road and use water cannon to disperse farmers [AFP]

“If the government doesn’t want farmers to protest amid the corona pandemic, why can’t the government say it will postpone the laws for six months or until the pandemic is over,” said Jagmohan Singh, Chief Farmer of Punjab, at Al Jazeera.

“We will not cancel our protest unless the government repeals these anti-farm laws.”

The bills, passed by India’s parliament in September, make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers and to contract with private companies. The government hopes that private sector investment will stimulate growth.

Vulnerable farmers at the market

Critics, however, say the changes will end buying grain at government-guaranteed prices and leave farmers vulnerable to the market.

Darshan Pal of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) and Punjab chairman of the Krantikari Kisan Union, said farmers gathered at the Haryana-Punjab border but police used barricades and prevented them from walk towards New Delhi.

Police are deployed at the Haryana-New Delhi border to prevent protesting farmers from marching to the capital in New Delhi [Manish Swarup/AP Photo]

Pal said 300,000 farmers are expected to reach New Delhi on tractors, buses and on foot after leaving the state of Punjab. Al Jazeera, however, was unable to independently verify the numbers.

“They [government] actually opened up the markets, opened up the land and opened up the produce of farmers for big business. They will form the mandis (agricultural markets), they will carry out contract farming and control agro-industry.

“Our basic demand is to abolish all these anti-farm laws and ensure the minimum support price (MSP) [the price at which the government buys farm produce] as recommended for all crops and guaranteed marketing for all crops. ”

Sukhdev Singh, Punjab’s general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Ekta Union, accused the government of passing the laws “for the benefit of big business”.

“The government did not consider it useful or important to get us on board before passing these black laws,” he told Al Jazeera.

Farmers have been protesting the new laws since September, especially in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, known as the Grain Bowls of India.

Farmers gather on a bridge as police block a road on a march to New Delhi. Police finally allowed protesters to continue to the capital [AFP]

“We saw the police using water cannons and tear gas on the farmers, but the farmers, undeterred, threw police barricades into the rivers,” said Elizabeth Puranam of Al Jazeera, New Delhi.

“Farmers’ organizations have been joined by others like unions here in New Delhi, but also in other states including Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala. [They say] that the BJP government and its policies are against farmers and against workers.

“This is a very big problem in India because around half of the 1.3 billion people work in the agricultural sector. It is a sector that has been in crisis for decades for a number of reasons, including high debt, ”Puranam said.

‘Deceive the farmers’

The Al Jazeera correspondent said many people agree that the agricultural sector needs reforms, but they say the laws passed by the Indian government leave farmers at the mercy of private investors.

Critics, however, say the changes will end buying grain at government-guaranteed prices and leave farmers vulnerable to the market. [File: Narinder Nanu/AFP]

“These laws relax the rules regarding sale, pricing, storage – laws that have protected Indian farmers from the market for decades. This is what worries farmers, even though the government says there will be something left of a minimum support price for products. Farmers say there will be no more guaranteed insurance on this, ”she said.

Farmer groups from five states, including the AIKSCC, called for the march.

A large deployment of police and paramilitaries could be observed at all entry points into New Delhi. Vehicles were checked and those with farmers had to turn around.

The Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, condemned the Haryana government for trying to forcefully stop farmers from marching. The Delhi local government has also condemned the police action against the farmers.

Hindu nationalist BJP, who also rules Haryana, says the laws will free farmers from traditional middlemen who dominate trade.

The party accused the opposition opposition party, which governs the state of Punjab, of misleading farmers.

“Opposition parties, especially the Congress party, are fooling farmers about the laws. They say the MSP will be abolished, which is not true, the MSP already exists even after the legislation is passed by parliament, ”Syed Zafar Islam, BJP spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.

“Nothing like we haven’t taken them in confidence. We gave farmers confidence before we passed the laws.

“No one can take an inch of their soil. Farmers fear their land will be taken away by companies, but nothing will happen.

Bilal Kuchay contributed to the New Delhi report


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