Farmers' agitation: Angry farmers brace for long, dangerous protest

While medical workers confirm pellet injuries, farmers say they feel cheated by the government after waiting years for the minimum pricing promise

Farmers have accused the police of shooting pellets at protesters. (photo: DW)
Farmers have accused the police of shooting pellets at protesters. (photo: DW)


Security forces in India are using barricades, barbed wire, bulldozers, water cannons and even drones armed with tear gas shells to halt the farmers' convoys heading to New Delhi.

For many of the protesters, this feel like déjà vu — just a few years ago, they staged massive rallies against the government's pricing policy, calling for a legal guarantee of Minimum Support Price (MSP), which will allow the farming community a safety net against price fluctuations.

The protest was called off near the end of 2021 after the authorities assured them their demands will be met.

With two years passing and no changes, many farmers feel cheated.

Two umbrella bodies — the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM) — representing more than 200 farm unions, called a new march towards New Delhi earlier this month.

But the marchers soon discovered that the roads to the Indian capital have once again been blocked.

Farmers ready for long standoff

Thousands of farmers of all ages are now stuck at a highway in Shambhu village which lies at the border of northern farming states of Punjab and Haryana after driving there in tractors and trucks.

They say they have been met with massive injustice at the hands of the ruling Narendra Modi's government.

Harpreet Singh, 34, a farmer from the Tarn Taran district of Punjab says farmers would not be able to survive if their voices are not heard.

"It hurts a lot that we have to sit here away from our families," he told DW from inside his tractor trolley.

"We are facing huge losses in our fields but we will have to continue our protest to save our future generations, to save farmers," he said.

But even with the losses due to protests, "the government not providing a legal guarantee of MSP will hurt us more."

Singh added he and other protesters have brought months worth of provisions and are ready for a prolonged standoff.

Years of waiting

The farmers are also demanding loan waivers and the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations. The commission was formed in 2006 by the then ruling Indian National Congress, the rivals of Narendra Modi's BJP, and turning their conclusions into law would mean farmers get an MSP of 1.5 times of the weighted average cost of production.

The BJP promised to implement these policies after coming to power in 2014, but this pledge has not been fulfilled.

Moreover, many of the farmers are resentful over the government's tactics in quelling the protests, accusing the BJP of using brute force.

Bitterness and anger against the government

A protester told DW that the government "cheated" the farmers who believed its promises in 2021.

"We have been labelled as terrorists but this is our country which we say is a democracy but does not feel like one," he said, with his eyes still red and watery from tear gas.

Earlier this week, police used drones to drop tear gas and fired several rounds of the gas to disperse the crowd. Many farmers were injured, and some had to be hospitalized.

"Is the government meant to bombard unarmed people?" Sawaranjit Singh, a farmer from Ludhiana asked while explosions from the tear gas canisters kept rocking the protest site.

"It's the murder of democracy."

Farmers injured, falling sick

On Monday, it was reported that a 24-year-old farmer died, allegedly by a bullet injury, at Khanauri border where another group of farmers is protesting.

Injuries and health issues are also common at the Shambhu camp, with multiple medical teams try to aid farmers who complain of diarrhea, fever, shortness of breath, skin rashes and other problems linked to persistent tear gas shelling and poor hygiene conditions.

Farmers have also alleged that the Haryana state authorities are using pellets and rubber bullets along with the tear gas. Haryana police officials have admitted to shooting rubber bullets but denied the use of pellets.

But medical workers interviewed by DW also believe protesters were shot by pellets.

"The first two days at the protest site were critical. I received several patients with breathing problems, skin rashes and some 200 patients with pellet injuries," said Hina (goes by the first name), a nurse who has volunteered to provide medical aid at Shambhu.

Hina said that "several farmers had received serious injuries and had to be referred to nearby hospitals."

A doctor who spoke to DW on the condition of anonymity also said he had several people come in with pellet injuries.

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Published: 24 Feb 2024, 8:45 AM