NEW DELHI, India: Farmers at main protest sites on the outskirts of India’s capital, New Delhi, are defiant as authorities call for an end to their months-long sit-in against new farm laws in the wake of violence in the city.
Authorities in Uttar Pradesh state, which neighbours the capital, on Thursday called for one camp in particular – the Ghazipur camp – to be cleared. But the farmers said they would not budge.
“Even if the police comes, we will sit here, peacefully, until the laws are repealed,” Bhagwant Singh, 53, a farmer from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, said.
Indian media reports on Friday morning said hundreds of farmers remained at Ghazipur border through the night, while more from neighbouring districts are expected to join them later in the day.
On Thursday evening, farmer leader Rakesh Tikait issued an emotional appeal to the nation to support their protest and declared he is “ready to face bullets” if needed.
Police sealed the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border, while two key borders where farmers are protesting – Singhu, the epicentre of the two-month-old protests and Tikri – have been placed under heavy security.
— ANI (@ANI) January 29, 2021
Tensions were high at the Singhu camp with many protesters carrying a stick, sword or axe – and even enormous ladles used in giant cooking pots at the camp’s kitchens – while regular announcements over a public announcement system in Punjabi told people to stay awake and alert.
The police order to close Ghazipur camp came after thousands of farmers on tractors went on a rampage in Delhi on Republic Day on Tuesday, leaving one person dead and at least 400 injured.
A day later, farmer unions scrapped next week’s planned march on parliament on February 1, the day when the government unveils its annual budget, although nationwide rallies were still planned on Sunday.
Two roads blocked by the protesters for weeks were cleared late Wednesday as two unions out of the 42 representing the farmers withdrew from the protest, each blaming other groups for Tuesday’s events.
“I am so ashamed and sad about [Tuesday] that I announce an end to our 58-day-long sit-in protest at this [Delhi] border,” one union leader, Bhanu Pratap Singh, announced on Wednesday.
Delhi police have signalled a tough line, saying they are studying footage and using face-recognition technology to identify and arrest those involved in the violence.
On Wednesday, police commissioner SN Shrivastava said the farmer unions, having promised that Tuesday’s tractor rallies would stick to agreed routes, had “backstabbed” the authorities.
“It was a minor blip. The government planned it and changed the direction of our tractor march, and they intentionally directed us towards the city centre,” Baljinder Singh, 32, from the northern state of Punjab said on Wednesday at Singhu.
Twitter has also suspended several hundred accounts, most of them outside India, which were sharing “fake and inflammatory” reports to incite religious or regional violence around the protest, Shrivastava said.
Farming has long been a political minefield, with nearly 70% of the 1.3-billion-strong population drawing their livelihood from agriculture.
The government says the industry is incredibly inefficient and in need of reform. But protesters fear the new laws deregulating the sector will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.