Thousands of farmers have stormed the Indian capital of New Delhi in protest against new agricultural laws.
Arriving from the nearby states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, farmers have set up road blockades and makeshift camps in a bid to counter agricultural rules they claim could destroy their livelihoods.
It is believed those taking part in demonstrations travelled in their hundreds of thousands by tractors and on foot. Some are thought to be sleeping rough on roadsides while many have sought food and supplies in places of worship.
Unrest erupted in September after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi passed laws he claimed would give farmers more autonomy to set their own prices and sell directly to private businesses. However, farmers fiercely oppose the reforms as they believe it would leave them open to exploitation by corporates, making them far worse off. As of the most recent census in 2011, agricultural workers make up over half of India’s 480 million-strong workforce.
The protests have led to violence between demonstrators and police, with the latter firing tear gas and water cannons in an exchange which Manoj Yadav, a senior police official from Haryana, claims began with stone attacks from protesters.
Police are now focussed on preventing the unrest from reaching New Delhi’s city centre, with barriers and dug up roads working as obstacles for demonstrators.
The Indian government has so far shown no sign of giving in to protester demands. Narendra Singh Tomar, the Minister of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, has urged farmers to stop their demonstrations and enter discussions with the government. He claims Modi and his government have and always will remain supportive of farmers and their rights.
Many feel Modi’s decision to introduce these laws in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic was a confusing one. India currently has over 9.4 million reported cases, the most of any country bar the United States, and has faced its first recession in decades. The growing unrest has caused widespread concerns of an increase in cases and infection numbers. However, Mukut Singh, president of a farmers union in Uttar Pradesh, said: “we are trying to be weary of Covid but we don’t have an option – it is a question of life and death”.