Thousands of Indian farmers blocked a massive highway in the outskirts of New Delhi on Saturday to mark the 100th day of protests against agricultural laws that they say will ruin their income.
The peasants stood on tractors waving colorful flags while their leaders chanted slogans through a loudspeaker on top of a makeshift stage.
Thousands of them have been starving outside New Delhi’s borders since late November to express their anger at three laws passed by parliament last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the laws are necessary to modernize agriculture, but farmers say they will leave them poorer and left to big business.
Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or Joint Farmers’ Front, said the blockade would last for five hours. “It is not our hobby to block roads, but the government is not listening to us. What can we do? “Said Satnam Singh, a member of the group.
The peasants have remained worried even after the violence broke out on January 26 during collisions with the police, which left a protester dead and hundreds injured. But they may soon run into problems.
For 100 days, Karnal Singh has lived in the back of a trailer along a long stretch of arterial highway that connects northern India with New Delhi. He camped outside the capital when it was under the grip of winter and smog. Now the city is strengthening for glowing summer temperatures that can hit 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).
But Singh, like many other farmers, is rude and plans to stay until the laws are completely repealed.
“We are not going anywhere and will fight to the end,” Singh, 60, said on Friday as he sat cross-legged inside a makeshift shelter at the back of his truck.
The atmosphere at the Singhu border, one of the protest sites, was loud on Friday, with many farmers settling in their area for a long time.
Huge soup kitchens that feed thousands daily were still running. Farmers were crowded on both sides of the highway and hundreds of trucks have been turned into rooms, equipped with water coolers for the summer. Electric fans and air conditioners are also installed in some trailers.
Farmers say the protests will soon spread across the country. However, the government hopes that many of them will return home when India’s big harvest season begins at the end of the month.
Karanbir Singh dismissed such fears. He said their community, including friends and neighbors back in the villages, would farm while he and others continued the protests.
“We help each other to make sure no farm goes out to harvest,” Singh said.
But not all farmers are against the law. Pawan Kumar, a fruit and vegetable grower and an avid Modi supporter, said he was ready to give them a chance.
“If they (the laws) do not prove to benefit us, we will protest again,” he said. “We will stop roads and make the protest even bigger. Then more ordinary people, including workers, will join. But if they prove to be beneficial to us, we will keep them.”
Several rounds of talks between the government and the farmers have not succeeded in ending the stalemate. The farmers have rejected an offer from the government to put the laws on hold for 18 months and say they want a complete repeal.
Legislation is not clear if the government will continue to guarantee prices for certain important crops – a system introduced in the 1960s to help India increase its food reserves and prevent shortages.
Farmers also fear that the legislation signals that the government is moving away from a system where an overwhelming majority of farmers only sell to market sanctions. They worry that will hand them over to companies that no longer have any legal obligation to pay the guaranteed price.