India blocked mobile internet services in various areas around New Delhi on Saturday (30) to “maintain public safety” as hundreds of farmers went on hunger strike – after days of protests and d clashes that left one dead and hundreds injured.
On Tuesday (26), thousands of farmers broke roadblocks and entered the capital on tractors to protest against agricultural sector reforms proposed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The date of this Sunday’s hunger strike was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), with the aim of showing that the movement is not violent.
“The farmers’ movement has been and will be peaceful,” said Darshan Pal, leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha farmer union group which is organizing the protests. “The events of January 30 will be organized to spread the values of truth and non-violence”.
Protesters camped out of the capital for nearly two months, which has been one of the biggest challenges for the prime minister since coming to power in 2014. They criticize government reform which loosens rules on sales, pricing and storage of agricultural products.
One of the most important changes is that with the new laws, farmers will be allowed to sell their products at market prices directly to private entities such as farm businesses, supermarket chains and grocery stores.
Currently, farmers sell most of their production in government-controlled wholesale markets, with guaranteed minimum prices.
At the main protest site near the village of Singhu on the outskirts of the town, police presence escalated on Saturday when hundreds of tractors arrived from Haryana, one of the two states at the center of the protests.
“Many groups of farmers have joined the site since last night,” protester Mahesh Singh, 65, said. “They have come to show their support and more farmers are expected to come in the next two days.”
India’s interior ministry said the suspension of internet services would be maintained until 11 p.m. Sunday (3 p.m. GMT) to “maintain public safety.” Indian authorities often block local internet services to avoid disruption.
Agriculture employs about half of India’s population, 1.3 billion people, and unrest among some 150 million landowners is worrying the government.
Nine rounds of negotiations with the unions failed to end the protests, as farm leaders rejected the government’s offer to postpone the laws for 18 months, pushing for a complete repeal.