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Protesting Indian farmers begin hunger strike

January 30, 2021

The striking farmers have been protesting for months over new agriculture laws that they say will hurt their profits, posing a major challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

A man in a green turban raises his hands and shouts as other farmers protest around him
Indian farmers at a protest site outside Delhi say they won't give up until the government repeals the lawsImage: Manish Swarup/AP Photo/picture alliance

Indian farmers began a daylong hunger strike on Saturday to protest against the government's new agriculture reforms.

They argue the legislation, passed by Parliament last September, will benefit large corporations at the expense of smaller producers.

For over two months, tens of thousands of farmers have been camping out at protest sites on the edge of the capital, New Delhi, to demand the laws be repealed.

Delhi tractor protest rally

Violence erupted on Tuesday during a tractor parade in the capital to coincide with India's Republic Day. Thousands of farmers stormed the city's Red Fort, and clashes between protesters and the authorities left one dead and hundreds injured.

Since then there have been sporadic skirmishes between protesters, police and anti-farmer groups.

Our movement 'will be peaceful'

Farm leaders stressed that Saturday's hunger strike, taking place on the anniversary of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi's death, would show the protests were overwhelmingly peaceful.

"The farmers' movement was peaceful and will be peaceful," said Darshan Pal, a leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha group of farm unions organizing the protests.

"The events on January 30 will be organized to spread the values of truth and nonviolence."

Talks with unions deadlocked 

The opposition from farmers groups has emerged as one of the biggest challenges to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he entered office in 2014.

Modi says the laws are necessary to modernize Indian agriculture — a sector that employs about half of the country's 1.3 billion population.

Farm unions and the government have been seeking a solution to the unrest, but 11 rounds of talks have so far failed to break the deadlock. The government has offered to push back the laws for 18 months, but farmers say they won't stop protesting until the legislation is withdrawn altogether.

nm/mm (Reuters, AP)