India: Farmers mark 100th day of protest, block highway

Farmers oppose three laws enacted that they say hurt them by opening up the agriculture sector to big private companies.

Farmers shout slogans as they take part in a three-hour 'chakka jam' or road blockade, as part of protests against farm laws on a highway on the outskirts of New Delhi [File: Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Indian farmers have blocked a six-lane expressway outside New Delhi to mark the 100th day of protests against the deregulation of agriculture markets, to add pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Farmers young and old headed in cars, trucks and tractors to the highway for a five-hour roadblock on Saturday to oppose three farm laws enacted in September 2020 that they say will hurt them and destroy their livelihoods by opening up the agriculture sector to big private companies.

Modi has called the laws much-needed reforms for the country’s vast and antiquated agriculture sector, and painted the protests as politically motivated.

“The Modi government has turned this protest movement into an ego issue. They are unable to see the pain of the farmers,” Amarjeet Singh, a 68-year-old farmer from Punjab state, told Reuters news agency.

“They have left us no option but to protest.”

Tens of thousands of farmers from several north Indian states have been camped out on the outskirts of the capital in bitter cold since December demanding that the laws be repealed.

Their movement has gained international attention and support, including from celebrities such as climate activist Greta Thunberg and US singer Rihanna, but several rounds of negotiations between farmer leaders and the government have failed.

Modi’s government has lashed out at supporters of the protests and stands accused by rights activists of using heavy-handed tactics to curb the demonstrations.

While the protests have been mostly peaceful, a brief spate of violence on January 26 led to the death of a protester, and the police have filed criminal charges against eight journalists over alleged misreporting of the events of the day.

“The Indian authorities’ response to protests has focused on discrediting peaceful protesters, harassing critics of the government, and prosecuting those reporting on the events,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement last month.

As the capital braces for harsh summers and the harvesting season begins, farmers gathering on Saturday said they had no plans to turn back until their demands were met.

“Bitter cold didn’t affect our movement, and neither will deathly heat,” said Raja Singh, a 58-year-old farmer from Punjab state.

Source: News Agencies