The thousands of indignant farmers marching towards Delhi to protest the farm laws are more scared of discrimination and loss of livelihood than they are of the Covid pandemic, one farmer told NDTV on Friday, as the army of protesters reached the outskirts of the national capital.
“Humein Covid se darr nahin lagta, lekin humaare saath jo bhed-bhaav ho raha hai, us se lagta hai (We are not scared of Covid, but we are scared of the discrimination that is being shown to us), We are farmers… all of us who have gathered here,” one of the farmers told NDTV.
“There is no politics at play here… no political party has any role in this. This is a movement by the farmers. Whoever says this is political does not have the welfare of farmers at heart,” he added.
The protesting farmers, whose numbers are expected to swell to tens of thousands by the end of the day, have formed a human chain in some parts, as the police try to break up the agitation.
A senior Delhi police officer said: “We will not endanger the residents of Delhi. We will not allow them to enter Delhi at any cost,” Gaurav Sharma, DCP (Outer North) said as he ordered the farmers’ tear-gassed.
Farmers from six states – Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab – marched to Delhi on Thursday, only to be confronted by a massed Haryana police force that used lathi-charge, tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to beat back the peacefully protesters.
The police also set up barricades wrapped in barbed wire and sand-laden trucks to block the farmers’ path, and even dug up roads to act as trenches. Visuals from Thursday and this morning, when they reached the Delhi border, showed the two sides in scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in a war zone.
The authorities have cited coronavirus rules – which require social distancing – to stop the farmers. The Haryana government, which has been criticised for its handling of this incident, has also prohibited large gatherings (again citing Covid rules) to quell the farmers’ protest.
Haryana has over 20,000 active Covid cases, while Delhi is battling a third wave of infections that has seen the active caseload jump to nearly 40,000.
However, the government’s reference to Covid rules to stop the farmers has been questioned by protesters and civil society activists, who have pointed out that such rules did not seem to apply when Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala recently held a large political rally.
On Thursday another protesting farmer, Singhu, highlighted that same point, as did Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav, who was detained by Haryana Police at Gurgaon.
“Three days ago, Dushyant Chautala rallied thousands of farmers. No mask. No social distancing. Then there is no pandemic. Bihar election – no pandemic. When farmers gather, then there is pandemic. This must be a very strange disease,” he told NDTV.
Several farmers have dismissed the idea that their protest is, in any way, political – a charge made by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar against his Punjab counterpart, Amarinder Singh.
The protest, planned for over two months, has the support of 500 farmers’ organisations.
The farmers are protesting new laws that the centre says will reform the agricultural sector by removing middlemen and improving farmers’ earnings by allowing them to sell produce anywhere in the country.
Farmers and opposition parties allege that the laws will deprive the farmers of guaranteed minimum price for their produce and leave them at the mercy of corporates.