Indian farmer leaders condemn Republic Day violence but won’t end protests


Leaders of the farmers’ unions in India have condemned the violence during a “tractor rally” held by farmers in the capital which saw protesters storm into the historic Red Fort complex and police using tear gas and batons to constrain them.

Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the group of farm unions organising the protests demanding the repeal of new agricultural laws, condemned the violence but refused to end their months-long protest.

Instead, they blamed the violence on “anti-social elements” that infiltrated an otherwise peaceful march held on the day as the country’s annual Republic Day and that they “will have to pay for their deeds”.

It is reported that two farmers’ unions – Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan and Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) – have decided to withdraw their backing for the national protests after the violence.

Protesting farmers have been camped outside Delhi for two months now, but the situation escalated on Tuesday as thousands of demonstrators ignored police instructions and enters the city centre.

After clashing with security forces and unfurling a religious flag inside the historic Red Fort monument, one protester died and 230 police personnel were injured in the ensuing violence.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha had planned another march to the country’s parliament building in Delhi on February 01, when the annual budget is scheduled to be presented but it is now unclear if they will carry on after Tuesday’s violence.

On Tuesday morning, protesters crossed over from neighbouring states into Delhi to carry out an unofficial “tractor parade” through a route pre-agreed with the police. The situation turned violent as a section of protesters deviated from the route and broke through barricades, as police lobbed tear gas shells and hit them with batons.

Thousands were able to breach even the heightened security arrangements in place for the annual Republic Day military parade through the city centre, and protesters were able to enter and occupy the historic Red Fort for several hours.

The mob hoisted a saffron religious flag considered sacred in Sikhism, known as the “Nishan Sahib”, alongside the Indian national flag at the fort, triggering an outcry on social media.

Samyukta Kisan Morcha released a statement on Wednesday that said the clashes won’t be allowed to hurt their movement and they would continue to protest.

“Despite all our efforts, some organisations and individuals have violated the route and indulged in condemnable acts. Anti-social elements had infiltrated the otherwise peaceful movement. We have always held that peace is our biggest strength, and that any violation would hurt the movement,” the union said.

It also alleged that a “dirty conspiracy was hatched” to derail their peaceful struggle against the farm laws.

The chaos unfolded in Delhi on a day of national significance. Republic Day marks the anniversary of India adopting its own constitution in 1950 after gaining independence from British rule in 1947.

Delhi police on Wednesday detained around 200 protesters on charges of rioting, damaging public property and attacking its personnel. It has also filed 22 complaints so far against the protesters.

A day after the violence, tens of thousands of famers continued to camp out at the Delhi borders, where they have been staging their sit-in protest, demanding the reversal of three government laws that will open up the agricultural sector to market forces.

No amicable solution has been reached to settle the dispute despite 10 rounds of discussions between the farmers and government officials, and an offer from the government to suspend the reforms for 18 months has been rejected. (Source: The Independent)