Farmers across India hit the streets on Friday, blocking roads and railway tracks, to protest reforms they feared would hurt their livelihoods.
The fierce protests against three farm bills that were recently passed by the Indian Parliament began around 8 am, but remained concentrated in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where farm yields are high.
While the Indian government has said that the reforms will help farmers get better prices by allowing them to sell their produce at markets and prices of their choice, the protesters fear the bills will hurt their interests as they pave the way for the entry of private players into the agricultural market.
Harinder Singh Lakhowal of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmers' Union), which is spearheading the protests, told the media, "Our agitations will continue until the government rolls back the anti-farmer reforms."
India's main opposition Congress party, as well as some regional outfits, have lent their support for the farmers.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said: "They (the farmers) will be forced to become slaves of trillions through contract farming." Her brother Rahul added: "The new agriculture laws will enslave our farmers".
The government, however, slammed the opposition parties for "misleading" the farmers.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the reforms were necessary to increase farm incomes and productivity. "Our government has created history. Small and marginal farmers will benefit the most from the reforms," he said.
Experts say the fear of farmers stems out of the fact that most of them currently sell their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets at a minimum support price. "They feel if the MSP goes, market forces will eventually dictate prices," said Prof BK Gupta, an agriculture policy expert.
Indian President is yet to sign the three farm bills into law.
What the 3 farm bills aim at?
1. End the monopoly of government-regulated markets and allow farmers to sell their produce directly to private players
2. Ensure a legal framework for farmers to enter into written pacts with companies and produce for them
3. Allow agri-businesses to stock food articles and remove the government's ability to impose restrictions arbitrarily.