India deploys arsenal against farmers’ protests

Outside the barricaded checkpoints in Delhi, tensions between farmers and authorities have reached fever pitch. The level of response to the grievances has been unwarranted and cruel.

Thred Media
5 min readFeb 20, 2024

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Seventy-one-year-old Jaspal Singh, who lives near the India-Pakistan border in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, sustained a leg injury during farmers’ protests at the Shambhu Barrier. ‘I have never seen brutality of the kind I have encountered at the Shambhu Barrier,’ he said from his hospital bed.

Singh had joined the farmers marching to the capital to demand the repeal of controversial agricultural laws when police forces unleashed a barrage of tear gas and smoke grenades.

Jaspal has a lacerated wound on his right leg and is being treated at the emergency ward of a government hospital in Rajpura town. He was part of the protesting crowd standing half a kilometer from the heavily guarded barrier when a tear gas shell dropped by a drone hit him. ‘I lost consciousness for a few minutes. Then I was brought here for treatment,’ he said.

The Shambhu Barrier, where farmers gathered as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest only to be stopped by Haryana security forces, is near Rajpura. Many injured farmers have been admitted to the Rajpura hospital since tension began at the barrier on February 13.

Footage shot by on-ground protests showed drones dropping tear gas shells directly into crowds, reminiscent of Israeli military tactics of suppressing Palestinian protests.

According to eyewitness accounts, over 4,500 tear gas shells were launched in 10 hours on Tuesday, averaging around 350 shells every 30 minutes. Meanwhile, reports of beatings, unlawful detention, and torture in custody have become commonplace.

Jaspal added that he also participated in the 2020 farmers’ protests but police brutality was never so extreme. ‘Is peaceful protest a crime now? Don’t we have the right to protest for our legitimate rights?’ he asked.

A multi-pronged crackdown

Beyond Punjab and Haryana unions, farmer organizations from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh are joining the Delhi march to demand government aid for India’s agriculture sector, critical to food security.

Groups leading the protests include the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM), and Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee. Over 200 farm unions are estimated to participate.

The SKM spearheaded the 2020–2021 protests forcing Modi to repeal controversial farm laws. Now farmers accuse his government of unfulfilled promises, including doubling farm incomes. The SKM has called a national rural and industrial strike to signal farmers’ ongoing discontent.

The aggression witnessed this week, meanwhile, marks the latest in the government’s escalating attempts to suppress dissent among farmers opposing agricultural deregulation.

Thousands of Indian farmers are marching towards New Delhi on tractors and trucks to pressure the government to meet demands like guaranteed crop prices and debt relief. On Tuesday, Haryana police fired tear gas at the farmers to stop them from reaching Delhi, now fortified with barbed wire, cement barriers, and internet suspensions.

The clashes evoke memories of the 16-month farmer protests two years prior. With entry points sealed and gatherings banned, tensions are mounting as the farmers continue their approach to the barricaded capital to voice grievances.

Yet through it all, farmers and supporters have managed to swell up the community, their spirits undampened as they turn sites into makeshift townships in a show of collective resistance.

‘We are fighting a dictatorship hiding behind democracy,’ said a Sikh priest at the site coordinating medical relief efforts. Describing violence long used by the Modi government, he added: ‘The flames only make us stronger.’

Failed talks, hardened stances

The marching farmers demand government guarantees on minimum support pricing to protect farm incomes amid market volatility. ‘The three acts have been withdrawn, but BJP-ruled states are trying to bring them through the backdoor,’ said Vijoo Krishnan of the All India Kisan Sabha.

Farmers also oppose the privatization of electricity, as states currently provide subsidized power to reduce input costs.

Additionally, they demand loan waivers and compensation for the ‘around 750 martyrs’ who died in the 2020–2021 demonstrations according to Krishnan. The protests hope to hold Modi’s BJP to promises made back then, arguing the administration’s farming committee formed since has seen little progress without representation from major grain-producing states Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.

Meanwhile, ingrained struggles persist. Thousands still take their lives annually amid crippling debt from crop failures and aggriculture output suffers from extreme weather and water shortages exacerbated by climate change.

As problems mount without solutions, farmers march on the capital to voice long-unaddressed grievances. Their demands spotlight the need for reforms to uplift the sector underpinning India’s vital food security.

Talks between government officials and protesting farmers have stalled without resolution. On Tuesday, police tear-gassed and detained some farmers amid clashes at the Haryana-Punjab border, even dropping canisters from drones.

Agricultural expert Devinder Sharma criticized authorities fortifying Delhi’s and Haryana’s borders, questioning, ‘How can we keep [farmers] away from the country? The capital? Decision-making?’

In 2022, Modi’s government promised a panel to ensure crop support pricing, but farmers accuse them of abandoning this pledge. With negotiations fruitless and tensions escalating, farmers remain barred from the barricaded capital as they call for long-awaited agricultural reforms.

The trigger for this week’s escalation came after police denied entry to the capital through spiked barricades. When protesters attempted to breach blockades, chaos ensued.

These protests come just months before India’s general elections, which BJP is predicted to win. ‘If it lingers on, then only will it have an election impact,’ saidagricultural analyst Devinder Sharma. Comprising nearly two-thirds of India’s 1.4 billion population per government data, farmers make up an influential voting bloc that political parties vie for.

Organizer Vijoo Krishnan condemns BJP’s ‘anti-farmer and anti-worker policies,’ but the ultimate electoral effect remains uncertain pending the demonstrations’ outcome. With farmers vital to India’s economy and food supply, sustained unrest could leverage voting power to demand overdue reforms.

‘We will return stronger,’ the farmers said in unison, flanked by some praying, some cooking, and some crying. Across the barricades, tire puncture repair shops worked throughout the night as authorities replenished spent cartridges and smoke shells.

Originally written by Sahil Pradhan for Thred.

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