One Indian state has blocked mobile internet in most of its districts, following clashes between hundreds of protesting Indian farmers and groups of men shouting anti-farmer and pro-police slogans.
Mobile internet in 15 of the 22 districts of Haryana state bordering the capital New Delhi will be unavailable until 5:00 p.m. local time on Saturday, according to a state government circular.
Authorities used tear gas and batons on Friday to interrupt clashes in Singhu in Haryana, one of several protest sites near New Delhi.
The protesting farmers oppose reforms which aim to deregulate agricultural product markets organized for decades by public bodies with guaranteed minimum prices.
Protesters say the changes will allow Indian conglomerates to take control of the agricultural industry, which will ruin their livelihoods.
The government says the reforms will open up new opportunities for farmers and will not bow to protesters’ demands.
Supporters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are accused of attacking protesting farmers, who are calling on the government to withdraw controversial laws.
Avik Saha, a peasant leader of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, told Al Jazeera that it was “bizarre” that the ruling party was waging war against Indian farmers who make up over 50% of India’s population.
“Far too many people depend on agriculture in India for free markets to take place. There is too much insecurity in the minds of farmers, so farmers want a law to guarantee their income.
“The ruling party does not want to guarantee this and they have unleashed their supporters, a very few of them, against this multitude of farmers. It is strange and it should not have been the political strategy of the ruling party. “
In a standoff between riot police and farmers, authorities attempted Thursday night to clear another protest site in the east of the city, but most farmers refused to budge and thousands more have overnight market to join them.
Their leaders said any retreat would constitute surrender.
“Concerned about the brutality of the police, thousands of farmers, who were not part of the protest, have now come to strengthen our movement,” said Rakesh Tikait, president of one of the largest farmers’ unions, the Bharti Kisan union, to Reuters. agency on Friday.
‘Shoot the traitors’
Tensions have built up around the farmer’s camps since Republic Day on Tuesday, when a rally of tractors turned into a rampage throughout the city that left one farmer dead and nearly 400 police injured.
The government has deployed thousands of additional police and paramilitaries to New Delhi and around the camps since then. A small camp was closed, as were many roads around the protest sites.
A policeman was injured in his hand on Friday in a fight with a farmer armed with a sword, an AFP journalist said at the scene.
Masked men, shouting “shoot the traitors”, accused the farmers, breaking police lines and steel barricades.
Authorities cut off power and water at a protest camp in Ghazipur, but hundreds of other farmers arrived overnight on tractors to reinforce what has become the nationalist prime minister’s biggest challenge Hindu Narendra Modi since taking power in 2014.
Growing political divisions
Modi’s government introduced the new farm laws in September, triggering protests and a two-month sit-in.
Modi retains a strong majority in parliament although protests are starting to undermine some support for the government in the countryside.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been in the camps since late November and despite violence this week, their leaders have signaled they are preparing for another protracted confrontation.
President Ram Nath Kovind said during the opening of a parliamentary budget session that the storming of the Red Fort by agricultural protesters on Tuesday was an “insult” to the national flag.
But a sign of growing political divisions caused by the conflict, opposition parties boycotted his speech.
While the farmers canceled a march plan on parliament next Monday – when the government presents its annual spending plan – they reaffirmed their determination to stay in the camps.
“The government is trying to derail our protest with lies and mischief,” said Sukhdev Singh, a farmer in his thirties. He said their families in the state of Punjab were worried but did not want them to return.
“We won’t budge from here until the laws are restored – even if it takes a day, a month, a year or 10 years.”