NEW DELHI (AP) — A nationwide strike called by thousands of Indian farmers protesting new agriculture laws began Tuesday amid new demonstrations in the outskirts of the capital.
The strike follows five rounds of talks between the farmers and the Indian government that have failed to produce any breakthroughs. Tens of thousands of farmers have blocked key highways on the outskirts of New Delhi, the capital, for nearly two weeks.
Protest leaders have rejected the government’s offer to amend some contentious provisions of the new farm laws, which deregulate crop pricing, and have stuck to their demand for total repeal.
Heavy contingents of police in riot gear patrolled the areas where the farmers were assembled on Tuesday.
At Ghazipur, in the outskirts of New Delhi, hundreds of farmers blocked all entry and exit routes. They chanted slogans such as “Long live farmers unity” and carried banners, some of them reading “No farmers, no food.” They allowed emergency vehicles including ambulances to pass through.
Darshan Singh, a farmer at Ghazipur, said the protesters would not back down. “We are determined to win this fight,” Singh said. “We will go back only after the (new farm) laws are dismissed.”
At Singhu, another area in the outskirts of New Delhi where farmers have also blocked highways, demonstrators burned an effigy on which the names of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and some Indian corporate leaders were written, while chanting slogans including “Modi has died!”
Farmer leaders have threatened to intensify their agitation and occupy toll plazas across the country if the government doesn’t abolish the laws.
Azadpur Mandi, New Delhi’s biggest wholesale vegetable and fruit market, shut in support of farmers.
The two sides will meet for more talks on Wednesday.
The farmers are protesting reforms that they say could devastate crop prices and reduce their earnings. They say the laws will lead the government to stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and result in exploitation by corporations that will push down prices.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government insists the reforms will benefit farmers. It says they will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. But farmers say they were never consulted.
The farmers are camping along at least five major highways on the outskirts of New Delhi and have said they won’t leave until the government rolls back what they call the “black laws.”
Farmers have been protesting the laws for nearly two months in Punjab and Haryana states. The situation escalated last week when tens of thousands marched to New Delhi, where they clashed with police.
The laws add to already existing resentment from farmers, who often complain of being ignored by the government in their push for better crop prices, additional loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.
With nearly 60% of the Indian population depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, the growing farmer rebellion has rattled Modi’s administration and allies.
Modi and his party’s leaders have tried to allay farmers’ fears about the new laws while also dismissing their concerns. Some of the party leaders have called the farmers “misguided” and “anti-national,” a label often given to those who criticize Modi or his policies.
Many opposition party leaders, activists and even some allies of Modi’s party have called the laws anti-farmer and expressed support for the protesters.
Arvind Kejriwal, New Delhi’s top elected official, was put under house arrest for supporting the farmers, his Aam Aadmi Party said in a tweet.