Protesting Indian farmers begin hunger strike after week of clashes
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian farmers began a one-day hunger strike on Saturday in protest against new agricultural laws after a week of clashes with authorities that left one dead and hundreds injured.
Angry at what they see as laws benefiting large private buyers at the expense of producers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped at protest sites on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi for over two months.
A planned tractor parade on Tuesday’s Republic Day turned violent when some protesters deviated from pre-agreed routes, tore down barricades and clashed with police, who used tear gas to try and restrain them.
Sporadic clashes between protesters, police and groups shouting anti-farmer slogans have broken out on multiple occasions since then.
Farm leaders said Saturday’s hunger strike, to coincide with the death anniversary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, would show Indians that the protesters 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 organising the protests.
“The events on January 30 will be organised to spread the values of truth and non-violence.”
Agriculture employs about half of India’s population of 1.3 billion, and unrest among an estimated 150 million landowning farmers is one of the biggest challenges to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since first coming to power in 2014.
Eleven rounds of talks between farm unions and the government have failed to break the deadlock. The government has offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months, but farmers say they will not end their protests for anything less than a full repeal.