Nationwide strike by India farmers a year after farm laws enacted

Indian farmers opposed to reforms they say threaten their livelihoods aim to renew their push against the changes by holding nationwide protests a year after laws on the liberalisation of the sector were introduced.

For 10 months, tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on major highways around the capital, New Delhi, to oppose the laws in the longest-running growers’ protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The farmers’ groups announced their renewed determination to protest on Monday.

“Thousands of farmers have spread out to different districts to ensure a complete nationwide strike aimed at reminding the government to repeal the laws introduced to favour large private corporations,” said Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers’ leader.

Activists in support of the protesting famers shout slogans during a demonstration in Mumbai [Indranil Mukherjee/AFP]

This month, more than 500,000 farmers attended a rally in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the biggest yet in the protest campaign, to step up pressure on Modi’s administration to repeal the laws.

The legislation, introduced in September last year, deregulates the agriculture sector and allows farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price.

Small farmers say the changes make them vulnerable to competition from big business, and that they could eventually lose price supports for staples such as wheat and rice.

The government says the reforms mean new opportunities and better prices for farmers.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Abhimanyu Kohar of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (Joint Farmers Front) said the Modi government “has not been listening to the farmers for 10 months and has been ignoring the protests”.


“So we have given the call for ‘Bharat Bandh’ (pan-India strike) so that every group, classes, young and old farmers, and traders unite against the policy of the present government.”

Kohar said the government claims the protest is limited to two or three opposition-ruled states.

“But you can see today that we are getting support from across the country, which is proving this is a pan-India movement from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Assam to Gujarat,” he told Al Jazeera.

Kohar said Monday’s protests enjoy popular support even in the states governed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

Farming sustains almost half of India’s more than 1.3 billion people and accounts for about 15 percent of the $2.7 trillion economy.

Farmer union leaders say their protests would not disrupt emergency services.

“We will also make sure that the strike remains peaceful,” Tikait said.

The protests have been generally peaceful but police and farmers clashed in New Delhi in January during a tractor procession and one protester was killed and more than 80 police were injured.

Hanan Zaffar contributed to this report from New Delhi.

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