Farmers in India have vowed to intensify their months-long protest against laws aimed at liberalising agriculture as tensions flare a day after nine people were killed in northern Uttar Pradesh state’s Lakhimpur Kheri district.
The Uttar Pradesh government on Monday announced 4.5m Indian rupees ($60,530) compensation to the families of the victims of Sunday’s violence. The state government also said a retired High Court judge will investigate the incident.
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The farmers, meanwhile, have decided to step up their protests against the contentious farm laws.
“We’ll intensify our agitation in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the country to highlight the plight of innocent farmers,” Dharmendra Malik, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, told Reuters news agency.
“The government might try to discredit the 10-month-long movement, but we will remain peaceful in our struggle.”
Federal minister’s son charged
Four farmers died on Sunday when a car owned by federal Minister of State for Home, Ajay Mishra, ran over protesting farmers in the Uttar Pradesh town of Lakhimpur Kheri, officials and farm leaders said.
Farm leaders alleged Mishra’s son was in the car when it ran over the protesters, but the junior home minister denied it.
Mishra said his driver and three members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who were in the car, were all killed by the protesters in the violence that broke out after the incident.
“They were beaten to death by the farmers,” Mishra said in a statement.
Police also said they recovered the body of a local journalist from the spot where violence ensued Sunday but did not provide further details on how he was killed.
On Monday, police registered a criminal complaint against 14 people, including the minister’s son, in connection with the death of the four farmers.
The BJP also lodged a criminal complaint against the protesting farmers over the death of its members and the car driver, said Arvind Chaurasia, a senior official in charge of the district.
Farm leaders want action against the minister and his son, saying Mishra should be removed from office.
The violence marked an escalation in continuing protests against agriculture laws that farmers say will shatter their livelihoods. The protests have lasted since the government passed the laws last September and have been one of the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Last week, thousands of farmers gathered at the edges of the capital, New Delhi, to mark one year of the passage of what they call “black laws”.
The government says the changes in the laws were needed to modernise agriculture and boost production through private investment.
But the farmers say the laws will devastate their earnings by ending guaranteed pricing and will force them to sell their crops to corporations at cheaper prices.
Police officer Arun Kumar Singh told The Associated Press that all schools have been shut in the district and people have been advised to stay indoors following the violence in Lakhimpur Kheri, 200km (124 miles) southeast of Uttar Pradesh’s capital, Lucknow.
Authorities also banned gatherings, suspended internet services, sent extra forces, and barred leaders from various opposition parties from entering the district to meet the farmers amid concerns it could cause further disorder.
Police detained several opposition figures on their way to the scene, including Priyanka Gandhi from the Congress party.
In Lucknow, police also detained former chief minister and local Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav outside his home.
Dozens of opposition supporters staged a protest in the city and set fire to at least one police vehicle, television pictures showed.
Protests organised by opposition parties also took place in New Delhi and Bangalore.
The continuing farmer protests against the laws have been largely peaceful, though clashes in January left one protester dead and hundreds injured after demonstrators broke through police barricades to storm a historic fort in Delhi.
Thousands of farmers have camped for more than 10 months on the outskirts of New Delhi, and more than a dozen rounds of talks between the government and the farmers have failed to resolve the issues.