Indian farmers opposed to reforms they say threaten their livelihoods aim to renew their push against the changes by holding nationwide protests a year after laws on the liberalisation of the sector were enacted.
For 10 months, tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on major highways around the capital, New Delhi, to oppose the laws in the longest-running growers’ protest against Narendra Modi’s government.
The legislations, introduced in September last year, deregulate the agriculture sector and allows farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price.
Small farmers argue the changes make them vulnerable to competition from big business, and that they could eventually lose price supports for staples such as wheat and rice.
The government on the contrary, claim that the reforms mean new opportunities and better prices for farmers.
For 10 months now, the farmers have been camping at the main highways on New Delhi’s outskirts, with Singhu border leading to Haryana state being the epicentre of the agitation.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Abhimanyu Kohar of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (Joint Farmers Front) said the Modi government “has not been listening to the farmers for 10 months and has been ignoring the protests”. “So we have given the call for ‘Bharat Bandh’ (pan-India strike) so that every group, classes, young and old farmers, and traders unite against the policy of the present government.”
Kohar said the government claims the protest is limited to two or three opposition-ruled states. “But you can see today that we are getting support from across the country, which is proving this is a pan-India movement from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Assam to Gujarat,” he told an international media. A 50-year-old woman from Punjab state’s Patiala, who has been participating in the protest at Singhu for the last 10 months, said “we are mothers, wives and daughters of farmers” and that they “are not going anywhere” until the laws are withdrawn. “The government has not been listening to us so we have been sitting here on the roads,” she said. “If farmers stop working, where will you get your food from? The entire country will be without food. The farmers have not been getting their due rates.” Kohar claimed Monday’s protests enjoy popular support even in the states governed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.