In September, tens of thousands of farmers from different states of India left their homes and took to the streets to protest against the farm reforms passed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed by Narendra Modi. The reforms have left many farmers in a difficult situation. Some fear their long ongoing struggles will worsen and others fear the reforms will only add to the disturbing rash of farmer suicides across the country.
Kuldeep Singh, 52, adjusts his blue turban in his tractor’s side mirror as he prepares to join the daily sit-in protests. He drove that same tractor miles from his village in India’s Punjab state. Singh joined the protests at a stretch of the national highway at Singhu border that has turned into the Indian farmers’ hub following their call for indefinite protests. Many protesters arrived carrying food and other daily commodities, preparing to stay for months. The government has now deployed hundreds of security personnel to block the major roads leading toward the Indian capital, New Delhi.
In some parts of Punjab, farmers are protesting by blocking railway tracks. The Railways Ministry said that it is losing revenue as railway operations continue to remain forcibly suspended due to track blockages in Punjab. A national newspaper reported that from September 24 to November 19, India’s railways have suffered a loss of 22 billion Indian rupees ($298 million) due to the farmers’ protests.
Earlier, tensions rose after the angry farmers, chanting anti-Modi slogans – “Modi Sarkar Murdabad! Murdabad! Murdabad!” meaning “Down with the Modi government!” – came riding tractors, buses, trucks, and motorcycles after the security forces tear-gassed and dispersed them when they tried to move toward the capital.
Singh joined the protests last week and claims that he will not back off until the reforms are rescinded. “We are fully prepared and are ready to face every circumstance. We want these reforms to be changed, till then we will not leave this place [Singhu border],” he told The Diplomat.
For its own part, Prime Minister Modi’s government stated that the reforms will benefit farmers. It further says the reforms will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. But farmers believe these promises are “a lie.”
Bhat Burhan is an independent multimedia journalist and can be followed on Twitter @bhattburhan02.