Seeking minimum crop prices, Indian farmers (left) march towards New Delhi on Wednesday.—Agencies
Seeking minimum crop prices, Indian farmers (left) march towards New Delhi on Wednesday.—Agencies

SHAMBHU: Indian riot police fired tear gas on Wednesday at columns of farmers on tractors seeking to breach heavily guarded roadblocks and march on the capital to demand guaranteed crop prices.

Farmers in India this week launched the “Delhi Chalo”, or “March to Delhi”, in an echo of January 2021, when they broke through barriers and rolled into New Delhi on Republic Day during a then year-long protest.

But this time around, hundreds of tractors have been stalled by fearsome barricades of concrete blocks and rolls of razor wire.

The farmers are demanding a law to fix a minimum price for their crops, in addition to other concessions including the waiving of loans.

Barrages of tear gas were fired at Shambhu, about 200 kilometres north of Delhi between Punjab and Haryana states where the main group of farmers has been stopped.

“The police are treating us as if we have come from an enemy country,” said Mohan Singh, a 65-year-old farmer from Punjab’s Kapurthala district, around 415 kilometres from the capital.

“All we want to do is go to Delhi and ask for our rights, but more than 150 of us have been injured.” Haryana state police said in a statement on Tuesday night that “heavy stones” were hurled at police and 24 officers had been hurt.

A protester throws back a tear gas shell at police at the border crossing between Punjab and Haryana,on Wednesday.—Agencies
A protester throws back a tear gas shell at police at the border crossing between Punjab and Haryana,on Wednesday.—Agencies

Farmers in India have political influence due to their sheer numbers, and the renewed protests come ahead of national elections likely to begin in April.

Two-thirds of India’s 1.4 billion people draw their livelihood from agriculture, accounting for nearly a fifth of the country’s GDP, according to government figures.

After first deploying tear gas on Tuesday, police fired fresh barrages on Wednesday, including dropping canisters from the air by drone as tractor-driving farmers tried to open the road by dragging barricades away.

“We are just waiting for the green signal from our leaders,” said Santokh Singh, 65, from Ludhiana in Punjab. “Once that comes, we will break all the

barriers.” But farmer union leaders used microphones to call for restraint from supporters.

“We will win this battle and go to Delhi,” one of them shouted. “But we cannot afford to get carried away.” Police have ringed the capital on three sides, blocking highways with metal spikes, blocks and steel barricades, while mobile internet services have been cut in parts of Haryana.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2024

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