New Delhi, India – Tens of thousands of farmers in India have observed a “Black Day” across the country to mark six months of their protest against farm laws passed by the Indian government last year.
Farmers demonstrated, hoisted black flags and burned effigies of politicians belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in several places throughout Wednesday. .
“We are observing a Black Day,” said Abhimanyu Kohar, a member of Sankyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of more than 40 farmers ’unions that jointly hold the protest, Al Jazeera said.
“Farmers across the country are raising black flags on their homes, tractors and other vehicles. As part of our protest, we also burned an effigy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi across the country for his failure to address our issues. “
In September last year, the Modi government passed three laws, saying they would jointly give farmers better marketing options for their produce and break the monopoly of commission agents and government -controlled market known as “mandis”.
Farmers, however, say the laws are aimed at giving private corporations greater control over the vast agricultural sector and leave them at the mercy of corporations with no legal obligation to pay them a fixed price. .
“We will not stop until anti-farmer laws are reinstated,” said Sar Singh, a 40-year-old farmer protesting at the Singhu border, the main area of the six-month outdoor protest. in the capital of India, New Delhi.
Singh, who belongs to the town of Tarn Taran Sahib in the northern state of Punjab, has been protesting in Singhu with his brother since farmers started their sit-in at the end of November last year.
He said he was determined to stay until the government was forced to change the law. “We are ready to protest for months. We will only leave our homes if our demands are met,” he told Al Jazeera.
Like Singh, thousands of farmers demanding the rollback of farm laws are camping on three major highways connecting the capital to neighboring states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
Some of the farmers have set up permanent shelters made of brick and cement on highways to cope with the country’s severe summer.
“We were forced to do it. We are not interested in protesting in the streets. But this government is not serious. To date, there has been no ongoing dialogue between farmers and the government. Our last meeting was in January, ”Kohar told Al Jazeera.
“Once the government agrees to repeal the laws and promises to continue taking our harvest at the Minimum Support Price (MSP), we will return to our villages,” he said.
The MSP is a mechanism that ensures the minimum price to farmers for their harvest in the state.
Numerous rounds of dialogue between farmers ’unions and government have failed to achieve a good outcome.
Earlier this year, the Modi government offered to suspend farm laws for 18 months, but farmers rejected the offer saying they wanted a complete repeal.
Meanwhile, authorities and health experts have expressed concern over the monthly protests held amid the fierce second wave of coronavirus disease.
Most Indian states have been under lockdown in the past few weeks to control the virus, which has claimed more than 300,000 lives, while the country’s total caseload is now at 27.37 million.
Nearly half of the deaths occurred during the devastating second wave, fueled by numerous regional election rallies spoken by Modi and other politicians, and a week-long religious festival on the sidelines. on the Ganges River.
Gauravdeep Singh, 25, from Punjab’s Ludhiana district, has been protesting in Singhu for months, often doubling down as a volunteer. He said unlike the country’s politicians, farmers follow the COVID-19 safety protocols.
We’re doing border guards and there’s no getting sick here. Many social and non-governmental organizations are helping us protect protesting areas from infection, ”he told Al Jazeera.
“This government has been organizing mass rallies and holding elections in various states recently. On what ethical grounds have they blamed us for neglecting to monitor COVID’s security measures? Has the virus disappeared? before? “
While farmers remained adamant in their demands to repeal the farm laws, the ruling BJP made it clear that the law would not be repealed.
“The government is clear on its stance. It is ready to amend the laws after analyzes but there is no way to get it done,” BJP spokesman Raman Malik told Al Jazeera.
Malik said the protests were pushed by “politically-related elements who have no concern for the welfare of farmers”.
“The laws seek to provide more optional provisions for farmers, but there are some forces in the country that just want to score political points and don’t want to improve farmers,” he said. .
But critics of the government have accused it of being “insensitive” to the plight of farmers.
Activist Shabnam Hashmi says the current government is “in partnership with corporations” and has never been serious about resolving the farm crisis.
“The government, instead of resolving the crisis, is trying everything to deposit the peasant movement using state-controlled media,” he told Al Jazeera.
Kavita Krishnan, a member of the opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist – Leninist) party, said the Al Jazeera Modi government was “fully responsible for the mismanagement” of the crisis.
“The government, by refusing to repeal three anti-farmer laws, is contributing to the spread of COVID because farmers have no choice but to continue to oppose the laws of thousands- thousands, because the laws are a death penalty for their livelihood and for Indian agriculture, ”he said.