Blockade marks 100th day of farmers’ protest

NEW DELHI (AP) — Thousands of Indian farmers blocked a massive expressway on the edges of New Delhi yesterday to mark the 100th day of protests against agricultural laws they say will devastate their income.

Farmers stood on tractors and waved colourful flags while their leaders chanted slogans via a loudspeaker atop a makeshift stage.

Thousands of them have hunkered down outside New Delhi’s borders since late November to voice their anger against three laws passed by Parliament last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said the laws are necessary to modernise agriculture but farmers said they will leave them poorer and at the mercy of big corporations.

Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or Joint Farmers’ Front, said the blockade would last five hours. “It is not our hobby to block roads, but the government is not listening to us. What can we do?” said Satnam Singh, a member of the group.

The farmers have remained undeterred even after violence erupted on January 26 during clashes with police that left one protester dead and hundreds injured. But they could soon
run into problems.

For 100 days, Karnal Singh, has lived inside the back of a trailer along a vast stretch of arterial highway that connects India’s north with New Delhi. He camped outside the capital when it was under the grip of winter and smog. Now, the city is bracing for scorching summer temperatures that can hit 45 degrees Celsius. But Singh, like many other farmers, is unfazed and plans to stay until the laws are completely withdrawn.

Protesters block the KMP Expressway in India as a part of their continuing demonstration against the central government’s recent agricultural reforms. PHOTO: AFP

“We are not going anywhere and will fight till the end,” Singh, 60, said on Friday, as he sat cross-legged inside a makeshift shelter in the back of his truck.

The mood at the Singhu border, one of the protest sites, was boisterous on Friday, with many farmers settling into their surroundings for the long haul. Huge soup kitchens that feed thousands daily were still running. Farmers thronged both sides of the highway and hundreds of trucks have been turned into rooms, fitted with water coolers in preparation for the summer. Electric fans and air conditioners are also being installed in some trailers.

Farmers said the protests will spread across the country soon. The government, however, is hoping many of them will return home once India’s major harvesting season begins at the end of the month.

Karanbir Singh dismissed such concerns. He said their community, including friends and neighbours back in the villages, would tend to farms while he and others carried on with the protests.

“We’ll help each other to make sure no farm goes unharvested,” Singh said.

But not all farmers are against the laws. Pawan Kumar, a fruit and vegetable grower and ardent Modi supporter, said he was ready to give them a chance.

“If they (the laws) turn out to not benefit us, then we will protest again,” he said. “We will jam roads, and make that protest even bigger. Then more common people, even workers, will join. But if they turn out to be beneficial for us, we will keep them.”