07 December 2020
Cool air blows through New Delhi in the mornings, and the sun is partly hidden by pollution. It is winter in India's capital city, where 29 million people live. But along the city's borders, this year is noticeably different.
These days, you hear cries of "Inquilab Zindabad" on the busy roads. It means "Long live the revolution." Tens of thousands of farmers have gone to the city's borders. They are filling the roads to demonstrate against new farming laws. They say these laws will open them to corporate abuse.
For more than a week, they have moved toward the capital driving in their farm equipment and trucks, pushing aside police barriers. Police have answered by firing tear gas and hitting the protesters with water cannons and heavy sticks.
Now, the farmers have set up camps just outside New Delhi. They have enough food and fuel supplies to stay several weeks. They want Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to cancel the new laws that were passed in September.
One of them is 31-year-old Kaljeet Singh. He traveled from Ludhiana city in Punjab, some 310 kilometers north of New Delhi. "He can't decide for millions of those who for generations have given their blood and sweat to the land," he said about Modi.
During the nights, the farmers sleep in and under vehicles. In daytime, groups sit close together in their vehicles. They are surrounded by hills of rice and vegetables that are prepared into meals each day.
Thirty-three-year-old Anmol Singh supports his family of six by farming. He said the new laws were part of a larger plan to take farmers' land away and give it to big companies.
"Modi wants the poor farmer to die of hunger so that he can fill the stomachs of his rich friends," he told The Associated Press.
Many of the protesting farmers come from northern Punjab and Haryana. Most of them are Sikh, a religious minority. They fear the new laws will lead the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices. And they worry that it will result in abuse by companies who will push down prices. Many activists and farming experts support the protesters' demand for guaranteed crop prices.
The new laws will also remove the people who act as agents between the farmers and the government-run wholesale markets. Farmers say these agents are necessary to the agriculture economy and the main line of credit for farmers. The agents quickly provide money to farmers for fuel, fertilizers and even loans in case of family emergencies.
The government says the laws bring about needed reform that will let farmers market their crops and raise production through private investment. But farmers say they were never consulted.
About 60 percent of the Indian population depends on agriculture to make a living. The growing farmer rebellion has angered Modi's administration and allies. His leaders have tried unsuccessfully to contain the protests.
Modi and his allies have tried to calm farmers' fears about the new laws while dismissing their concerns. Some of his party leaders have called the farmers "misguided" and "anti-national," a name often given to those who criticize Modi or his policies.
The government is holding talks with the farmers to try to persuade them to end their protests, but success does not seem likely.
Farmer Kulwant Singh is 72 years old. He said that when he left his home in Haryana for the protests, he gave his wife a necklace of flowers for two possible situations. He says if he returns home victorious, she will place the flowers around his neck in celebration. But, if he dies while revolting, his wife will put the necklace on his lifeless body when it is returned home.
Singh traveled to New Delhi with his grandson.
"It's a fight for my generation too," said 16-year-old Amrinder Singh.
Many of Modi's policies have been hugely unpopular with his critics and minorities. The farmers say it is time he stops what they call his "dictatorial behavior."
Modi was reelected in May of 2019. His second term has been marked by problems. The economy has suffered. Social unrest has grown. Protestors have rejected laws they say are unfair. And his government has been criticized for how it is dealing with the COVID-19 health crisis.
Now, the farmer protests are presenting a new problem for the government.
I'm Alice Bryant.
The Associated Press reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
water cannon – n. a machine that shoots a large, powerful stream of water and that is used by police to control crowds
sweat – n. the clear liquid that forms on your skin when you are hot or nervous
wholesale – adj. relating to the business of selling things in large amounts to other businesses rather than to individual customers
consult – v. to talk about something with (someone) in order to make a decision
necklace – n. a piece of jewelry that is worn around your neck