Global lens

Why India’s farmers are protesting in months-long stand-off

At least one demonstrator killed in clashes with New Delhi police as tensions over new agricultural laws boil over

Hundreds of police officers and demonstrators have been injured after tens of thousands of farmers rallied in New Delhi to protest against controversial new agricultural legislation.

Following “two months of determined and peaceful demonstrations centred on protest camps on the city’s outskirts”, tensions boiled over on Tuesday, with farmers “clashing with a police force that tried to push them back with tear gas and a baton charge”, The New York Times reports.

At least one man was killed in the violence. Farmers claim that he was shot while the police say he died when his tractor overturned.

Why are the farmers protesting?

The protests were sparked by three new bills that “will loosen rules around sale, pricing and storage of farm produce”, the BBC says. 

One of the “biggest changes” is that “farmers will be allowed to sell their produce at a market price directly to private players”, the broadcaster continues. “Most Indian farmers currently sell the majority of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets or mandis at assured floor prices.”

When selling to the government-run market, farmers were “assured of a basic minimum price,” The Times reports. But with the government’s role in agriculture reduced, farmers fear they will be left at the mercy of big businesses.

The Indian authorities insists the new laws will liberate farmers and attract private investment, promoting growth in the agriculture-dependent nation.

But the BBC’s India correspondent Soutik Biswas says that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has “misread the mood of India’s angry farmers” with his reforms, which have sparked accusations of “crony capitalism”.

Modi’s decision to enact the laws without discussion during the Covid-19 lockdown of his parliament has also been criticised.

This week’s violence is not the first time that farmers and police have clashed in New Delhi. In 2018, officers fired tear gas and plastic bullets at unarmed farmers during demonstrations over rising fuel prices and fertiliser costs.

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