TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Tens of thousands of Indian farmers have gathered outside New Delhi to protest new laws that aim to deregulate agricultural markets.
Tens and thousands of farmers with distinctive, colourful turbans and long, flowing beards have descended upon the city’s borders, choking highways in giant demonstrations against new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation.
For more than a week, they have marched towards the capital on their tractors and trucks like an army, pushing aside concrete police barricades while braving tear gas, batons and water cannon.
Now, on the outskirts of New Delhi, they are hunkered down with food and fuel supplies that can last weeks and as they threaten to besiege the capital if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government does not meet their demands to abolish the laws passed in September.
“Modi wants to sell our lands to corporates,” said one of them, Kaljeet Singh, 31, who travelled from Ludhiana city in Punjab, some 310 kilometres (190 miles) north of New Delhi. “He can’t decide for millions of those who for generations have given their blood and sweat to the land they regard as more precious than their lives.”
At night, the farmers sleep in trailers and under trucks, curling themselves in blankets to brave the winter chill. During the day, they sit huddled in groups in their vehicles, surrounded by mounds of rice, lentils and vegetables that are prepared into meals at hundreds of makeshift soup kitchens, in enormous pots stirred with wooden spoons the size of canoe paddles.
Many of the protesting farmers hail from northern Punjab and Haryana, two of the largest agricultural states in India. An overwhelming majority of them are Sikhs.
They fear the laws passed in September will lead the government to stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and result in exploitation by corporations who will push down prices. Many activists and farming experts support their demand for a minimum guaranteed price for their crops.
The new rules will also eliminate agents who act as middlemen between the farmers and the government-regulated wholesale markets. Farmers say agents are a vital cog of the farm economy and their main line of credit, providing quick funds for fuel, fertilisers and even loans in case of family emergencies.
The laws have compounded existing resentment from farmers, who often complain of being ignored by the government in their push for better crop prices, additional loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.
The government has argued the laws bring about necessary reforms that will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. But farmers say they were never consulted.
Several rounds of talks between the two sides have failed to end the impasse, with another round of talks expected on Saturday.