NEW DELHI — Thousands of Indian farmers blocked traffic on several roads and railway tracks outside the federal capital on Monday to mark one year of demonstrations against the laws they say will shatter their livelihood.
The farmers have renewed their protests with calls for a nationwide strike on the anniversary of the legislation’s passage. The drawn-out demonstrations have posed one of the biggest political challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept the polls for the second time in 2019.
Waving colourful flags and distributing free food, hundreds of farmers gathered at one of the protest sites outside New Delhi. The mood on Monday was charged with determination to keep the protests going — some even brought mattresses with them, camping out as the day went on.
Along New Delhi’s southwest and eastern fringes, protesting farmers crowded highways, choking traffic and cutting off access from the capital to neighbouring states. Police were deployed to three main protest sites on the outskirts of the city to maintain law and order.
A coalition of farmers’ unions — known as the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front — has called on shops, offices, factories and other institutions to shut their doors in solidarity for the 10-hour strike. All emergency services, including hospitals, pharmacies and relief work, will continue, they said.
The government has defended the legislation, saying it is necessary to modernise agriculture and that the laws will boost production through private investment. But the farmers say the new legislation will devastate their earnings by ending guaranteed pricing and force them to sell their crops to corporations at cheaper prices.
In neighboring Punjab and Haryana states — which are the country’s the two biggest agricultural producers — thousands of demonstrators also blocked highways, bringing traffic to a halt in some areas.
In the eastern state of Bihar, trains were halted as farmers squatted on railway tracks. Protesters also took to the streets, raising slogans against the Modi government, burning tires and blocking roads across the region. Police said some 500 protesters had been taken into custody, but added that the shutdown remained peaceful.
In the southern city of Bengaluru on Monday, hundreds of people marched in support of the protest against the government. In the southern state of Kerala, the ruling Left Democratic Front called for a total shutdown, reported local media.