Violence overshadowed India’s Republic Day celebrations on Tuesday when hundreds of thousands of farmers protesting against new agriculture laws, diverted from agreed routes and clashes with police broke out.
Police used batons and fired teargas to try to disperse the crowds who broke through police barricades around the capital and entered the grounds of Delhi’s historic Red Fort, leaving one dead protester and more than 80 police officers injured.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been striking on the outskirts of Delhi since November, demanding the laws be repealed. Last week they rejected a government offer to put the laws on hold.
It is one of the longest farmers-led protests India has ever seen, pitting the community against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BharatiyaJanata Party-led (BJP) government.
The government says the reforms that spurred the protests will liberalise the agriculture sector, but farmers say they will lose income.
Mobile internet services were suspended in parts of Delhi and some metro stations closed as security forces scrambled to restore order.
The government is yet to comment on the violence, but reports say Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with Delhi police to discuss the situation.
Police allowed Tuesday’s rally on the condition that it would not interrupt the annual Republic Day parade in central Delhi. Republic Day is a national holiday that marks the anniversary of India officially adopting its constitution on January 26, 1950.
Farmers were given specific routes for the rally, which would largely be confined to the outskirts. But a group of them converged on the historic Red Fort. They breached security and clambered onto the walls and domes of the fortress, even hoisting flags alongside the national flag.
By Tuesday afternoon, police said they had removed protesters from the complex, but the situation remained tense.
“We came here to deliver a message to the Modi government, our job is done. We will go back now,” one protesting farmer told NDTV.
Other protesters broke through police barricades and marched towards central Delhi, where India’s parliament is located.
Images from the ITO metro station junction – on the route to central Delhi – showed police clashing with farmers and using tear gas and batons. Protesters driving tractors appeared to be deliberately trying to run over police personnel. Local media reported injuries on both sides.
At least one protester died at the junction when his tractor overturned as police fired tear gas.
BBC correspondents said protesters outnumbered the police at the ITO junction, leaving them struggling to control the crowd.
“We have been appealing to farmers to go by the pre-approved route but some of them broke police barricades, attacked police personnel,” a senior police officer told ANI news agency. “We are appealing to farmers’ unions to help maintain peace.”
Union leaders issued similar appeals, condemning and distancing themselves from the violence. (Source: BBC)