Activists of Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) shout slogans at a protest rally in Kolkata. Reuters
Gulf Today Report
A nationwide strike called by thousands of Indian farmers protesting new agriculture laws began on Tuesday as farm organisations called for a nationwide strike after inconclusive talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Tens of thousands of farmers have blocked key highways on the outskirts of New Delhi, the capital, for nearly two weeks after five rounds of talks between the farmers and the Indian government that have failed to produce any breakthroughs.
In eastern and western states, farmers blocked roads and squatted on railway tracks, delaying hordes of people getting to work, and preventing perishable produce from reaching markets.
Protest leaders have rejected the government’s offer to amend some contentious provisions of the new farm laws, which deregulate crop pricing, and have stuck to their demand for total repeal.
Farmers from the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, neighbouring New Delhi, have been at the vanguard of the agitation since last month, and have set up protest camps in and around the capital.
“We will not allow the government to change the rules because they want to hurt farmers’ income by filling the pockets of big companies,” said Gurwinder Singh, a 66-year-old farmer from Punjab, a state known as the food bowl of India. The reforms enacted in September loosened rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce that have protected farmers from an unfettered free market for decades.
Assured of floor prices, most currently sell the bulk of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets, known as mandis.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has said the reforms would not hurt farmers’ incomes. More talks between the government and farmer organisations are due on Wednesday.
Meantime, social media has fanned sympathy for the farmers’ cause among the Indian diaspora abroad. During recent days, thousands of people have protested in support of the farmers outside the Indian embassy in central London.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, protest sites around New Delhi have turned into camps, with entire families cooking and sleeping in the open and Sikh religious organisations were providing them with face masks, water and food.
At least 20 regional and national opposition parties backed the call for the strike.
“It’s going to be nightmare if there will be any serious unrest during the pandemic,” a senior home ministry bureaucrat overseeing security told Reuters on condition of anonymity, warning that police had been authorised to use water cannons or tear gas to disperse over-crowded protests.
“The Modi government has turned this protest movement into an ego issue. They are unable to see the pain of the farmers,” said Amarjeet Singh, a 68-year-old farmer from Punjab state. “They have left us no option but to protest.”
For more than a month, tens of thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of New Delhi, the capital, to protest against reform measures that they say benefit large private buyers and harm growers.
US singer Rihanna, climate change activist Greta Thunberg and US lawyer and activist Meena Harris, the niece of Vice-President Kamala Harris, made comments on social media drawing attention to the plight of farmers who have been on a months-long campaign against reforms.
Turner posted pictures of collecting heaps of garbage during his morning trek on Margalla Hills in Islamabad on his Twitter handle while reminding people about their religious obligation.
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