Indian farmers opposed to reforms they say threaten their livelihoods aim to renew their push against the changes by holding nationwide protests a year after laws on the liberalisation of the sector were introduced.
For 10 months, tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on major highways around the capital, New Delhi, to oppose the laws in the longest-running growers’ protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
The farmers’ groups announced their renewed determination to protest on Monday.
“Thousands of farmers have spread out to different districts to ensure a complete nationwide strike aimed at reminding the government to repeal the laws introduced to favour large private corporations,” said Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers’ leader.
The legislations, introduced in September last year, deregulate the agriculture sector and allows farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price.
Small farmers say the changes make them vulnerable to competition from big business, and that they could eventually lose price supports for staples such as wheat and rice.
The government says the reforms mean new opportunities and better prices for farmers.
For 10 months now, the farmers have been camping at the main highways on New Delhi’s outskirts, with Singhu border leading to Haryana state being the epicentre of the protests.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Abhimanyu Kohar of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (Joint Farmers Front) said the Modi government “has not been listening to the farmers for 10 months and has been ignoring the protests”.
“So we have given the call for ‘Bharat Bandh’ (pan-India strike) so that every group, classes, young and old farmers, and traders unite against the policy of the present government.”
Kohar said the government claims the protest is limited to two or three opposition-ruled states.
“But you can see today that we are getting support from across the country, which is proving this is a pan-India movement from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Assam to Gujarat,” he told Al Jazeera.
A 50-year-old woman from Punjab state’s Patiala, who has been protesting at Singhu for the last 10 months, told Al Jazeera “we are mothers, wives and daughters of farmers” and that they “are not going anywhere” until the laws are withdrawn.
“The government has not been listening to us so we have been sitting here on the roads,” she said. “If farmers stop working, where will you get your food from? The entire country will be without food. The farmers have not been getting their due rates.”
Kohar said Monday’s protests enjoy popular support even in the states governed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
Earlier this month, more than 500,000 farmers attended a rally in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the biggest yet in the protest campaign.
Farmer union leaders earlier on Monday said their protests would not disrupt emergency services. “We will also make sure that the strike remains peaceful,” Tikait said.
But long traffic jams were reported at many highways leading to New Delhi.
Gurpreet Singh, a 30-year-old businessman in the city, said he was stuck at the Delhi-Haryana border while travelling for work.
“I am with the farmers. I am completely fine if I am facing a difficulty today. I will choose a different road (to travel),” he told Al Jazeera.
“People are facing difficulties because of the strike but I am not angry with the farmers. It is for the larger cause. People should cooperate.”
The protests have been generally peaceful but police and farmers clashed in New Delhi in January during a tractor procession and one protester was killed and more than 80 police were injured.
Farming sustains almost half of India’s more than 1.3 billion people and accounts for about 15 percent of the $2.7 trillion economy.
Hanan Zaffar contributed to this report from New Delhi.