At least one killed as thousands of Indian farmers clash with police amid agricultural reforms

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Samaan Lateef
·3 min read
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Farmers cross a barricade during a tractor rally to protest against farm laws on the occasion of India's Republic Day in Delhi, India - DANISH SIDDIQUI /REUTERS
Farmers cross a barricade during a tractor rally to protest against farm laws on the occasion of India's Republic Day in Delhi, India - DANISH SIDDIQUI /REUTERS

A farmer died and dozens of others were injured as clashes with police during protests over agriculture reforms overshadowed India's Republic Day.

Thousands of farmers in a convoy of tractors were met with tear gas shells and stick-wielding police as they broke through barricades in the capital, New Delhi.

The farmers, some on foot and others on horseback, went on to storm the city's Red Fort as they continued a rebellion which has proved the biggest challenge to Narendra Modi's government since agitation against citizenship law reforms a year ago.

Protestors have camped at the edge of the capital and blockaded highways to the north for two months, rattling the government. Farmers' leaders are demanding the withdrawal of new laws which they say will favour large, private buyers over producers, and devastate farmers' earnings.

The government had opposed the farmers' rally saying it would be a "national embarrassment" if it overshadowed Republic Day. Police had said the farmers should keep their protest route away from central Delhi and hold their demonstration after the national parade.

SAJJAD HUSSAIN  - AFP
SAJJAD HUSSAIN - AFP

Yet the tractor convoy quickly brushed aside steel and concrete barricades, as police launched baton charges and tear gas volleys. Television coverage showed several bloodied protestors as street clashes continued.

Navneet Singh, 34, was killed after he was shot at and lost control of the tractor he was driving near Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, said Surjeet Singh Phul, a farmers' union leader. Mr Phul said the dead man had been shot in the head, though police insisted he died when his tractor overturned.

The dead man's body was wrapped in the Indian flag and laid out at a road crossing. Dozens more were hurt.

India’s federal home ministry cut mobile internet services to parts of the city and closed several metro stations, in an attempt to thwart the protests. Some protestors reached an intersection less than two miles from the parade, where Mr Modi and his government watched a procession of tanks, troops and a military flypast.

Protesting farmers jump police barricades tp march to the capital - Altaf Qadri /AP
Protesting farmers jump police barricades tp march to the capital - Altaf Qadri /AP

Farmers were accompanied by women and children as their red and blue tractors streamed into Delhi vowing to “defeat Modi and force him to repeal the anti-farmer laws”.

“We were protesting peacefully but police were firing tear smoke shells at us. We can’t drive our tractors in this nauseating smoke. Policemen have been provoking us to attack,” said one farmer Manjeet Rai. Mr Rai said he had been protesting since early November, but would not return home until the laws had been repealed.

“These black laws are a death warrant to the farmers. We don’t want our children should starve to death because these laws are meant to destroy the farmers and fill the coffers of a few businessmen friends of Modi,” he said.

Farmers' leaders have rejected Mr Modi’s offers to postpone the three laws passed in September that overhauled the way farm goods are sold in the country of more than 1.3 billion people. The government says the legislation would eliminate middlemen in state-run wholesale markets, increase earnings for farmers and make India more self-reliant.