India farmers brave tear gas as they protest against ‘black laws’

Thousands of farmers have been stopped by police as they tried to march to the Indian capital as part of their Dilli Chalo (Go to Delhi) protest against new legislation passed by the right-wing government they say will curb their earnings and benefit big corporations.

Police in New Delhi’s neighbouring state of Haryana, governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the farmers who tried to march towards New Delhi on foot, in buses and tractors, NDTV news channel reported.

At one site, the farmers retaliated by throwing bricks and pushing aside barricades.

After a two-hour stand-off, police eventually allowed the marchers to continue towards the capital.

The borders of the national capital have been sealed and metro services in several areas shut down with police saying no rallies were allowed in view of the coronavirus pandemic.“If the government doesn’t want farmers to protest amid the corona pandemic why can’t the government say that it will defer the laws for six months or until the pandemic is over,“ Jagmohan Singh, farmer leader from Punjab, told Al Jazeera.

“We will not call off our protest unless the government scraps these anti-farmer laws.”

The bills, passed by India’s parliament in September, make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers and enter into a contract with private companies. The government hopes private sector investments will stimulate growth.

Farmers vulnerable to market

Critics, however, say the changes will end the purchase of grains at prices guaranteed by the government and leave farmers vulnerable to the market.

Darshan Pal of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) and Punjab president of Krantikari Kisan Union, said farmers have gathered on the Haryana-Punjab border but police used barricades and stopped them from marching to New Delhi.Pal claimed 300,000 farmers are expected to reach New Delhi on tractors, buses and on foot after setting off from the state of Punjab. Al Jazeera, however, could not independently verify the numbers.

“They [government] have actually opened the markets, open the land and open the commodities of the farmers for the big corporate houses. They will form the mandis (agricultural markets), they will get the contract farming done and control the agribusiness.

“Our basic demand is to scrap all these anti-farm laws and assure the Minimum Support Price (MSP) [the price at which the government buys farm produce] as recommended for all the crops and assured marketing guarantee for all the crops.”

Sukhdev Singh, Punjab general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta, accused the government of passing the laws “to benefit the big corporates”.

“The government didn’t find it worthy or important taking us onboard before bringing these black laws,” he told Al Jazeera.

Farmers have been protesting since September against the new laws, especially in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, known as the grain bowls of India.

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