Nihangs or Sikh warriors shout slogans before burning an effigy of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a nationwide general strike called by farmers to protest against the recent agricultural reforms in Amritsar on December 8, 2020. (Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)
FARMERS in India launched a national day of action Tuesday(8) against reforms deregulating the agriculture sector by blocking railway tracks and highways across the country.
Tens of thousands of farmers have set up barricades on roads into New Delhi since November 26, vowing not to move until the laws are repealed in one of the biggest challenges to the Hindu nationalist government since it was re-elected in a landslide in 2019.
“We are worried, extremely worried. Our children will starve, what could be a bigger worry than this?,” said farmer Ved Singh ahead of the strike, echoing fears of his peers that large corporations would lower prices and destroy their livelihoods.
“There would be nothing to eat… How will we earn money? This is the biggest worry for us.”
Authorities put on extra police in Delhi and boosted security in the rest of the country in a bid to head off any trouble.
The farmers were supported in their call for action on Tuesday by railway workers, truck drivers, teachers and other unions.
Five rounds of talks have failed to narrow differences between farmers and ministers. Fresh talks on the reforms will be held on Wednesday(9).
In many eastern and western states, protesters blocked railway tracks, roads and halted trains.
“We want to support the farmers’ cause,” a senior leader from the Communist Party of India told AFP in eastern West Bengal state.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s Common Man Party said he had been placed “under house arrest” since Monday(7) by Delhi Police, which is controlled by the national government, after he visited the farmers’ blockade site. Police denied the claim.
Footage posted on Twitter showed an opposition Congress leader in western Gujarat state riding a scooter being chased by a police vehicle as he sought to join the strike.
“The government is misleading the farmers to benefit a few companies, whether Indian or foreign,” said Sonipat Agricultural Market Traders Association president Pawan Goyal.
“If the law continues in future, the farmers will be reduced to labourers and only become workers for big companies.”
Top athletes including wrestler Kartar Singh, who has won gold medals at the Asian Games, said they would return national awards in protest at the laws.
Singh, alongside hockey player Gurmail Singh — gold medallist at the 1980 Moscow Olympics — and former women’s hockey captain Rajbir Kaur tried to march on the presidential palace Monday to return their awards but were stopped by police.