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India: Farmers block roads, rail tracks in nationwide protest

Farmer unions in India staged a huge protest to pressure the government into withdrawing its controversial reforms.The protests have been ongoing for 10 months, and joined by several opposition parties.

File photo of farmers taking part in a tractor rally to protest against farm laws on the occasion of India's Republic Day in Delhi

The nationwide protest was organized by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organization of about 40 farm unions

Indian farmer unions launched a nationwide protest on Monday to mark one year since the parliament passed three contentious farm laws that they say threaten their livelihood.

The 10-hour protest began early in the morning with tens of the thousand of farmers blocking state and national highways as well as train tracks, effectively bringing road and rail traffic to a halt.

The demonstrators, however, insisted that emergency services will not be affected.

Offices, educational institutes, and commercial establishments have been closed, said the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organization of about 40 farm unions.

Security has been enhanced at the national capital's border, and additional police and paramilitary forces were deployed to maintain law and order, officials said.

10 months of protests

Farmers, largely from the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been camped out around New Delhi in what has been one of the longest protests against the Narendra Modi-led government.

Watch video 02:22

Protests against agriculture laws in India continue

Earlier this month, more than half a million people attended the rally in Uttar Pradesh in a bid to revive their movement

"Farmers protesting against the central farm laws for the last 10 months are ready to agitate for 10 years but will not allow the 'black' legislations to be implemented," said Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers' leader.

"The agriculture minister is asking us to come for talks. We want to ask him to tell us the time and place. He simply says it for the sake of it. We will not leave even if it takes 10 years," Tikait told Indian broadcaster NDTV.

Opposition parties support protests

Monday's protest has been backed by several opposition parties, and even some opposition-ruled state governments.

Rahul Gandhi of the main opposition Congress party tweeted his support for the farmers and criticized the government as "exploitative," while his party called on members to join the protest.

The chief minister of the Congress-ruled Punjab also extended his support to the protesting farmers, as did the state government of two southern states: Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Why are the farmers protesting?

In September 2020, India enacted new market-friendly reforms aimed at liberalizing the country's farm sector.

The government argued that the new laws will give freedom to farmers to sell their produce outside regulated markets and enter into contracts with buyers at a pre-agreed price.

Farmers' associations say the legislation does not guarantee the acquisition of farm produce through state-run organizations that guarantee a minimum support price (MSP).

They fear this would leave them at the mercy of big corporations that will enter the country's troubled farming sector and squeeze them for profit, destroying their livelihood.

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