Protesting Indian farmers are holding a one-day hunger strike on Monday to demand the scrapping of three new farm laws, which they say will drive down crop prices and were passed without their consultation.
Tens of thousands of farmers have blocked highways leading to the capital, New Delhi, for three weeks as police continue to ban them from entering the city.
The protests, which have spread to other parts of India, have been supported by workers’ groups, opposition parties and other civil society groups.
Several rounds of talks with the Indian government, which is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have failed to produce any breakthroughs.
The government says the new laws will allow farmers to sell their produce directly to private players outside the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets controlled by the state governments.
The laws also aim to bring in contract farming, which would allow a farmer and a prospective buyer to strike a deal before the actual planting.
But farmers say the new laws will pave way for the private sector to bypass the traditional “mandi” system that guaranteed them a minimum price for their produce.
“We will face a huge loss from these new laws. We can’t earn good profit on our crops if we sell below the minimum support price,” Ranjeet Singh, a 70-year-old farmer said, nursing his tea on a cold morning at the Singhu border outside New Delhi.
The farmers, male and female, brought their supplies with them, cooking together at the protest sites. Despite the temperature dipping considerably at night, they sleep under the tractors and trucks they drove there.
“We will not let government offices work when you pass these black laws which are unacceptable to us. I left early in the morning, crossed many barricades and walked by foot to join the protest at Tikri border,” said Sharmila Soda, a 45-year farmer from Haryana.
Farmers say they are prepared to spend months on the highway if the laws are not repealed. NGOs are working to provide them with food and shelter as doctors remain on standby with a medical camp.
“I belong to a farmer’s family, so I joined too,” 23-year-old college student Hassan from Punjab state, which has seen the maximum mobilisation during the ongoing protest.
From dawn to dusk, slogans and songs blare from loudspeakers as TV cameras and media reporters follow the agitating farmers.
“The government is using a sold-out media to portray us as terrorists. It is trying to take down our social movement,” says Harinder Happy, 23, a doctoral student and member of a students’ group.
“Our students are going to many villages across Punjab to educate farmers about this new farm bill and its negative effects,” said Sukhripir Kaur, 22, of the Punjab Students Union.
“Our parents work in the fields and they are the backbone of our economy. What will they do if our land will be controlled by the government and corporate sectors?” she asked.