Thousands of angry Indian farmers faced tear gas and baton charges from police on Friday as they resumed their march to the capital to protest new laws they fear will give more power to corporations and reduce their earnings.
Heading toward New Delhi, the farmers used tractors to clear walls of concrete, shipping containers, and parked trucks set up by police on highways leading to the capital.
The farmers began their march to New Delhi on Thursday to mount pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to abolish the laws, but were stopped by large numbers of security personnel in riot gear on the boundary between New Delhi and Haryana state. They resumed their march early Friday, unfazed by overnight rain and chilly winter temperatures.
“We are fighting for our rights. We won’t rest until we reach the capital and force the government to abolish these black laws,” said Majhinder Singh Dhaliwal, a leader.
For the last two months, farmer unions unwilling to accept new legislation have camped on highways in Punjab and Haryana states.
They say the laws, which were approved by the parliament in September, could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their being exploited by corporations that would buy their crops at cheap prices.
The government has said the laws are aimed at reforming India’s farming sector by giving farmers the freedom to market their produce and boosting agricultural growth through private investment.
Opposition parties and some Modi allies have called the laws anti-farmer and pro-corporation.
In a bid to stop the protesters from riding commuter trains into the capital, the Delhi Metro said on Twitter that some services were suspended. Traffic slowed to a crawl as vehicles were checked along state boundaries, leading to huge jams on some highways.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh urged the federal government to defuse the tension at the border and initiate talks with leaders of the farmers.
“The voice of farmers cannot be muzzled indefinitely,” Singh wrote on Twitter.
Negotiations between the leaders of farmer unions and the government to defuse the standoff have been unsuccessful.
Farmers say they will continue to protest until the government rolls back the laws.
Reporting by Sheikh Saaliq from New Delhi for the Associated Press.