India suspends internet services as farmers hold hunger strike


Internet services at three locations on the outskirts of Delhi where farmers protests are occurring had been suspended until 11pm (1730 GMT) on Sunday to “maintain public safety”, India’s interior ministry said on Saturday.

The announcement came as protesting farmers began a one-day hunger strike after a week of clashes with authorities that left one dead and hundreds injured.

Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped at protest sites on the outskirts of the capital for over two months now, calling for the repeal of new agricultural laws that they say benefit large private buyers at their own expense.

The tractor parade on Republic Day last Tuesday turned violent when some protesters deviated from agreed routes, tore down barricades and clashed with police, who used teargas and batons against them.

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

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

There was a heightened police presence on Saturday at the main protest site near the village of Singhu as hundreds of tractors arrived from Haryana, one of two states at the centre of the protests.

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

“The farmers’ movement was peaceful and will be peaceful,” said Darshan Pal, a leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha group of farm unions organising the protests.

“The events on January 30 will be organised to spread the values of truth and non-violence.”

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 the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, since coming to power in 2014.

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

The government has offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months, but farmers say they will not end their protests for anything less than a full repeal. (Source: The Guardian)