India blocks Internet near Delhi as farmers begin hunger strike

SINGHU • India blocked mobile Internet services in several areas surrounding New Delhi yesterday as protesting farmers began a one-day hunger strike after a week of clashes with the authorities that left one dead and hundreds injured.

Angry at new agricultural laws that they say benefit large private buyers at the expense of producers, tens of thousands of farmers have camped at protest sites on the outskirts of the capital for over two months.

A planned tractor parade on Tuesday's Republic Day anniversary turned violent when some protesters deviated from pre-agreed routes, tore down barricades and clashed with police, who used tear gas to try and restrain them.

Sporadic clashes between protesters, police and groups shouting anti-farmer slogans have broken out on multiple occasions since then.

India's Interior Ministry said yesterday that Internet services at three locations on the outskirts of New Delhi where protests are occurring had been suspended until 11pm today to "maintain public safety".

The Indian authorities often block Internet services when they believe there will be unrest, although the move is unusual in the capital.

At the main protest site near the village of Singhu on the northern outskirts of the city, there was a heightened police presence yesterday, as hundreds of tractors arrived from Haryana, one of two states at the centre of the protests.

At least 10,000 new protesters have arrived since Thursday to bolster the campaign, according to observers.

Farm leaders said the hunger strike, to coincide with the death anniversary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, would show Indians that the protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful.

"The farmers' movement was peaceful and will be peaceful,"said unionist Darshan Pal, a leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha group of farm unions organising the protests. "The events on Jan 30 will be organised to spread the values of truth and non-violence."

Some local groups say they want the protesters to go home but the farmers' leaders are adamant they will stay. There have been accusations that right-wing activists have manipulated the counter-protests.

Agriculture employs about half of India's population of 1.3 billion, and unrest among an estimated 150 million landowning farmers is one of the biggest challenges to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Eleven rounds of talks between farm unions and the government have failed to break the deadlock.

The government has offered to put the farm laws on hold for 18 months, but the farmers say they will not end their protests for anything less than a full repeal of the legislation.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 31, 2021, with the headline 'India blocks Internet near Delhi as farmers begin hunger strike'. Subscribe