Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping on the outskirts of New Delhi since November, protesting against the Indian government’s plan to liberalise the agricultural sector.
Farmers say new agricultural laws passed in September will destroy their livelihoods, offer no protection for crop prices and leave them at greater risk of losing their land.
The farmers, mainly from the states of Punjab and Haryana, have blockaded roads into the national capital as their unions push for a repeal of the laws.
The largely peaceful protests turned violent on Tuesday (Jan 26) during celebrations for India’s Republic Day, a national holiday.
Thousands of farmers broke through barricades, clashed with police and occupied the 17th century Red Fort, a tourist attraction and symbol of Indian power. One protester died and over 300 police officers were injured.
Why it matters
In the past, the Indian government offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, providing certainty that allowed for long-term investments for crop cycles.
The new laws loosen rules around the sale, pricing and storage of produce which have protected the farmers from the free market for decades.
The new rules allow farmers to sell goods to anyone for any price, and also sell directly to buyers.
The government has said the new legislation will eliminate middlemen in state-run wholesale markets, increase earnings for farmers and make India more self-reliant.
But farmers fear that it will threaten decades-old concessions – such as assured prices – and weaken their bargaining power, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by private companies.
About two-thirds of the 1.3 billion population work in agriculture, making farming a central political issue, reported AFP.
Several rounds of talks between the government and farmers’ unions have not led to any agreement. Last week, the farmers rejected a government proposal to suspend the new laws for 18 months, insisting on a total repeal.
Following Tuesday’s protests, the farmers’ leaders condemned the violence and said the groups who stormed the Red Fort were not a part of the original movement.
About 200 people involved in the protests have been detained, reported the Times of India.
On Wednesday, police in Delhi imposed heavy security measures and closed several main roads in the city.
The farmers have returned to the sites where they have been camping, and their unions said the protests will continue till the new laws are permanently repealed.
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