Tens of thousands of farmers blockaded main roads across India on Saturday in a continuation of a months-long protest movement against new agricultural policies they say will empower corporations and devastate them financially.
The continued demonstrations indicate that protest energy remains strong, as the government and farmers remain locked in a stalemate after several rounds of talks between them failed to produce any major breakthroughs.
Protestors used tractors, trucks, tents, and boulders to block roads during a three-hour “chakka jam,” or road blockade, across the country, according to Reuters.
Blockades were set up at over 10,000 sites across India on Saturday, according to Avik Saha, a secretary of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, a federation of farmer groups.
“We will keep fighting till our last breath,” Jhajjan Singh, an 80-year-old farmer at a protest site in Ghazipur, told the Guardian. He said that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, “should know that either he will remain or we will.”
Tens of thousands of police were deployed across the country to deal with the protests. While the farmer demonstrations have been largely peaceful, on January 26, a group of protesters peeled off from a demonstration route and fought with police officers in Delhi, an incident which resulted in hundreds of injuries and the death of a protester.
Farmer leaders condemned the violence, but security has ramped up since then. According to the Guardian, police have added iron spikes and steel barricades around protest sites to prevent farmers from entering the capital.
Why the protesters are mobilizing
Protesters have been mobilizing against three agriculture reform laws passed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in September; together, the laws aim to deregulate India’s agricultural industry.
As Vox’s Jariel Arvin explained in December, while the government says this is necessary to modernize the economy, protesters argue that it will only intensify their economic precarity:
Under the new policies, farmers will now sell goods and make contracts with independent buyers outside of government-sanctioned marketplaces, which have long served as the primary locations for farmers to do business. Modi and members of his party believe these reforms will help India modernize and improve its farming industry, which will mean greater freedom and prosperity for farmers.
But the protesting farmers aren’t convinced. Although the government has said it will not drop minimum support prices for essential crops like grain, which the Indian government has set and guaranteed for decades, the farmers are concerned they will disappear. Without them, the farmers believe they will be at the mercy of large corporations that will pay extremely low prices for essential crops, plunging them into debt and financial ruin.
“Farmers have so much passion because they know that these three laws are like death…
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