168036

World  

Farmers rise up against Modi in India's winter of discontent

Farmers rise up in India

A chilly breeze whirls through New Delhi in the mornings and the sun is partly obscured by toxic haze, a marker of another winter in the Indian capital. But along the city's borders, this year is visibly and viscerally different.

The perpetually busy arterial highways that connect most northern Indian towns to this city of 29 million people now pulse to the cries of “Inquilab Zindabad” — “Long live the revolution.” Tens and thousands of farmers with distinctive, colorful turbans and long, flowing beards have descended upon the city's borders, choking highways in giant demonstrations against new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation.

For more than a week, they’ve marched toward the capital on their tractors and trucks like an army, pushing aside concrete police barricades while braving tear gas, batons and water cannons. Now, on the outskirts of New Delhi, they are hunkered down with food and fuel supplies that can last weeks and threatening to besiege the capital if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government doesn't meet their demands to abolish the laws.

“Modi wants to sell our lands to corporates,” said one of them, Kaljeet Singh, 31, who travelled from Ludhiana city in Punjab, some 310 kilometres north of New Delhi. “He can’t decide for millions of those who for generations have given their blood and sweat to the land they regard as more precious than their lives.”

At night, the farmers sleep in trailers and under trucks, curling themselves in blankets to brave the winter chill. During the day, they sit huddled in groups in their vehicles, surrounded by mounds of rice, lentils and vegetables that are prepared into meals at hundreds of makeshift soup kitchens, in enormous pots stirred with wooden spoons the size of canoe paddles.

Anmol Singh, 33, who supports his family of six by farming, said the new laws were part of a larger plan to hand over the farmers' land to big corporations and make them landless.

“Modi wants the poor farmer to die of hunger so that he can fill the stomachs of his rich friends,” he said. “We are here to fight his brutal decrees peacefully.”

He paused, then reconsidered: “Actually, let him and his ministers take us on. We will give them a bloody nose.”

Many of the protesting farmers hail from northern Punjab and Haryana, two of the largest agricultural states in India. An overwhelming majority of them are Sikhs. They fear the laws passed in September will lead the government to stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and result in exploitation by corporations who will push down prices. Many activists and farming experts support their demand for a minimum guaranteed price for their crops.

The new rules will also eliminate agents who act as middlemen between the farmers and the government-regulated wholesale markets. Farmers say agents are a vital cog of the farm economy and their main line of credit, providing quick funds for fuel, fertilizers and even loans in case of family emergencies.

The government has argued the laws bring about necessary reform that will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. But farmers say they were never consulted.



More World News

167319