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Indian farmers stage sit-in near parliament against new agricultural laws

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Indian farmers stage a demonstration against the central government’s recent agricultural reforms, in New Delhi, India, on July 22, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Indian farmers have staged a sit-in protest against new agricultural laws near the parliament in the capital, New Delhi.

After extended negotiations, police agreed to let 200 farmers gather at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on the condition that the coronavirus guidelines are followed by the protesters, a government statement said.

“Throughout the monsoon session of parliament, 200 farmers will go to Jantar Mantar every day to hold a farmers’ parliament to remind the government of our long-pending demand,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, one of the farmer leaders.

Parliament ends its monsoon session early in August, and the farmers are allowed to gather until August 9.

This is the first time that the authorities grant permission to farmers to hold a protest in the city since January 26, when thousands of angry farmers clashed with police in New Delhi during a tractor rally. One protester was killed and more than 80 police officers were injured across the city in those protests.

Since November 2020, tens of thousands of farmers from several Indian states have been camping on the outskirts of the capital, calling on the right-wing government to repeal the three laws meant to “overhaul procurement procedures” and “grant” farmers more options to sell their products.

Farmers are opposed to the government-proposed agricultural reforms, calling them “anti-farm.” They believe the three new laws would mean a corporate takeover of their livelihoods and would eventually lead to black marketing. They have also demanded a legal guarantee on Minimum Support Prices (MSP) for their crops, to protect farmers’ from the full force of the free market.

Several rounds of talks between the government and the farm leaders have failed. “There have been 12 rounds of meetings, why hasn’t there been any progress? Because this government wants to talk to us, but not listen to us!” said a farmer from Uttar Pradesh.

“The degree of injustice meted out by this government reminds me of the struggle we waged against the British Empire,” said Gandharv Singh, who is older than the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “These laws have made clear to us that they don’t care about us. This reminds me of the 1940s, when we participated in sit-ins in response to Gandhi’s calls for protest.”

In India’s parliament, key opposition leaders, such as many senior members of the Congress Party, asked the government to address the farmers’ concerns and roll back the three controversial laws. They gathered in the compound of parliament, carrying placards that read “Save the country, Save the farmers,” and shouting slogans of support.

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