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Indian farmers' months-long standoff with the government turns deadly

India Republic Day Farmers Protest
Protesting farmers are seen amid tear gas smoke fired by police in an attempt to stop them from marching to the capital during India's Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi, India, January 26, 2021.  Altaf Qadri/AP

New Delhi — A months-long standoff between India's farmers and its government led to new clashes between police and protesters in the capital of Delhi on Tuesday. At least one farmer died and scores were injured in the clashes, and some police were also injured, according to officials.

The large-scale clashes were the worst violence in weeks amid what has become one of the longest-running labor standoffs in Indian history — and one of the biggest challenges for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The farmers planned massive rallies for Tuesday to coincide with India's Republic Day, a national holiday that always involves a huge military parade through central Delhi.

The farmers — mostly from the states of Punjab and Haryana, known as the "rice bowl" of India — started protesting in mid-November, marching to Delhi and setting up makeshift camps on the capital's borders. They have held their ground since then, occasionally organizing big tractor-led marches into the capital.

They're demanding Modi's government repeal three farming laws implemented in September aimed at deregulating the country's agriculture sector. The farmers say the laws will help big businesses but destroy the livelihoods of smaller farmers, who make up the backbone of the agriculture sector, which amounts to almost 15% of India's $2.9 trillion economy.

India Republic Day Farmers Protest
Protesting farmers drive a tractor into a truck that was being used as a barricade by police, as they make their way while marching to the capital, breaking through police lines, during India's Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi, January 26, 2021. Altaf Qadri/AP

In December, the farmers received widespread support for a one-day pan-India shutdown that blocked highways and rail lines and briefly choked the flow of basic goods around the country.

"We will not stop"

The police had given the farmers permission to hold a tractor rally on Tuesday on the outskirts of Delhi — away from the city's center where the Republic Day celebrations were taking place. But several groups of protesters diverged from the designated route and headed toward central Delhi, where celebrations and parades were still going on.

Farmers began breaking through barricades at border entry points and one group managed to get into New Delhi's iconic Red Fort, hoisting their own flags besides the Indian national flag.

India Republic Day
Sikh farmers wave a Sikh religious flag as they arrive at the historic Red Fort monument in New Delhi, India, January 26, 2021. Dinesh Joshi/AP

Police used tear gas and charged the protesting farmers with canes as hundreds of tractors poured into the capital. The government sent in additional paramilitary forces in full riot gear as the clashes escalated in the afternoon. 

"We want to send out a clear message to the government: We will not stop, you have to take the laws back," said one angry protester at the Red Fort. It took police and paramilitary forces several hours to clear the 17th century landmark.

Phone and internet services in some parts of Delhi were cut late in the day and a few subway stations in the capital closed as the government sought to stop protesters coordinating. 

India's suffering farmers

Several rounds of talks between the farmers' leaders and Modi's government in recent months have failed to resolve the standoff. 

Last month the government offered to put the farm laws on hold, but the farmers have insisted on a complete rollback of the measures.

India blames farmers for dangerous air pollut... 02:02

India's agriculture sector has suffered in recent years thanks to outdated laws, climate change-fueled droughts and flooding, and even locusts destroying thousands of acres of crops.

The circumstances have pushed thousands of debt-ridden farmers to suicide. More than 10,000 Indian farmers died by suicide in 2019 alone, according to government data

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