On Thursday farmers from several states, including UP, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Punjab, began marching to Delhi armed with food, fuel and essential supplies for six months – a clear indication that they are in this struggle for the long haul. While crossing BJP-ruled Haryana, they were met with lathi charges, tear gas and water cannons. Roads were dug up, barbed-wire barricades set up and sand-laden trucks parked to stop them.
Undeterred, the farmers finally reached the Delhi border on Friday morning, and have since set up camp at various spots around the national capital’s outskirts.
The strike has been organised to protest against the CM Narendra Modi government’s dismantling of protective labour laws, refusal to negotiate an increase in minimum wages, increasing unemployment and job insecurity, sky-high prices, selling off of several public sector units to private entities, the invitation to foreign capital in a slew of sectors, including defence and space, and refusal to provide income support in a sinking economy, which suffered a severe crash during the recent lockdown.
Thousands of farmers are camping in and around Delhi to protest against the three new laws aimed at bringing reforms. The central government may, by hook or crook, ride out the current Punjab-based farmer’s agitation. But the underlying logic of the situation can sow the seeds of a long-term crisis. Punjab farmers, who are protesting against the Centre’s new farm laws, rejected Union home minister Amit Shah’s proposal for an early discussion on their grievances, conditional to their moving to a designated protest site. The farmers said the government should have approached with “an open heart” and not put preconditions. The farmers’ decision came after a meeting this morning, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, showed support for farm laws in his radio address Mann ki Baat, saying the “agricultural reforms” have “unshackled” the farmers and given them “new rights and opportunities”.
In the last few years, India has witnessed many protests of the farmer; however, this year seems to have been riskier for these protests owing to the pandemic. The farmers came forward for a long haul, with all their essential items loaded along with them. The farmers are firm on their demand for the repeal of the new farm laws. The government said it is open to dialogue, but farmers must free up the capital’s borders and move to the Burari ground. There was a crucial meeting held on Sunday in regards to the issue, many protesters put a halt on the ongoing activities to wait for the results. Due to this farmer’s agitation in the many states of India, various public services like trains, buses etc have been affected, some of them even terminated for a while.
The non-resident Indians (NRIs) have openly come out in support of the protesting farmers in Delhi and has started sending them aid. The NRIs say they are worried and shocked over brutality to the farmers. Around 50,000 Canadian dollars (Rs 25 lakhs) has been donated by Raja Dhaliwal of Canada’s “World Financial Group” and the executive team to help the farmers and they have donated for providing langar to the farmers. They have given the money to Ravi Singh of the Khalsa Aid. Canada Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan tweeted saying he is worried about the safety of his loved ones. “The reports of peaceful protesters being brutalized in India are very troubling. Many of my constituents have family there and are worried about the safety of their loved ones. Healthy democracies allow peaceful protest. I urge those involved to uphold this fundamental right,” he tweeted.
The farmers said they feared getting trapped in open-air jails; Delhi Police, which is controlled by the centre, had earlier suggested stadiums be converted to jails. On Saturday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had assured the protesters that the government was ready to deliberate on “every problem and demand”. The Centre, he said, will hold talks with the farmers’ unions on December 3 and if they want discussions before that, they will have to shift their protest to a designated venue.
By Karishma Gwalani