After a week of clashes with authorities which left one dead and hundreds wounded, Indian farmers started a one-day hunger strike on Saturday in protest against new agricultural laws.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped at protest sites on the outskirts of the capital of New Delhi for more than two months, furious at what they see as laws favouring big private buyers at the detriment of growers.
On Tuesday’s Republic Day, a proposed tractor parade turned violent when some demonstrators deviated from pre-agreed roads, ripped down barricades and fought with police who used tear gas to try to restrain them.
Since then, occasional clashes have broken out on numerous occasions between demonstrators, police and individuals chanting anti-farmer slogans.
Farm leaders said the hunger strike on Saturday, coinciding with Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary, would show Indians that the demonstrators were largely peaceful.
“The farmers’ movement was peaceful and will be peaceful,” said Darshan Pal, leader of the farm union party Samyukt Kisan Morcha who coordinated the protests.
“The January 30 events will be organised in order to spread the values of truth and non-violence.”
Agriculture employs nearly half of India’s 1.3 billion people, and discontent among an estimated 150 million land-owning farmers has been one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government’s greatest problems since coming to power in 2014.
Eleven rounds of talks have failed to crack the deadlock between farm unions and the government. For 18 months, the government has promised to put the laws on hold, but farmers insist they’re not going to stop their demonstrations for anything less than a complete reversal.