To mark six months of their protest against new agricultural laws, various farmers' groups in India have plans to stage a mass protest across the country on Wednesday against the deregulation of the agriculture market through new legislation which passed last year.
The federal government, however, has appealed to the farmer leaders to call off the protest as it could become a viral "superspreader" event amid the COVID-19 surge.
Narendra Danda, a spokesperson for a joint group of farmers' unions, Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), told Sputnik on Friday: “The government is trying to defame the farmers as spreaders of COVID-19 while it could not provide enough beds, oxygen, medicines and vaccination.”
“They are trying to stifle our voice by calling us super spreaders. Instead of defaming us, the government should withdraw the three laws. The farmers will go back home," he added.
When asked if these protests are going to witness large public congregations amid an already grave situation in the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the spokesperson said: "No virus, no disease can dissuade or break us.”
“We will sit at that protest site even till 2024 if need be," added the spokesperson of SKM, an umbrella organisation of 40 farmer unions."More than 40,000 farmers will assemble at the New Delhi Border carrying black flags."
When reminded that Delhi, like many other cities, is already under lockdown, Harinder Singh, another spokesperson of SKM said: "We will not be holding a protest where lockdown is announced. Only toll-plazas and highways and at the Delhi borders will be blocked.”
“There will be no blockade for ambulances, police vans and any car or vehicle either carrying corona patients or related to COVID work."
"At places where curfews or lockdowns are in place, people will wave black flags. We may burn a few effigies at some places, but all COVID norms will be followed," Singh added.
On Tuesday, for the first time in 41 days, India reported less than 200,000 cases in the past 24 hours. Meanwhile, it has recorded over 300,000 deaths so far.
India now accounts for 16 percent of the global confirmed cases and nine percent of global deaths.
Opposition Parties Lend Support to Farmers
Twelve opposition parties, including Congress, in a statement, have said that they stand by the farmers.
In a joint statement, the leaders referred to a letter they have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanding the repeal of the three farm laws “to protect lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of our ‘Annadatas’ (food providers) from becoming victims of the pandemic so that they can continue to produce food to feed the Indian people”.
Meanwhile, there is a general concern that mass gathering could again become a “superspreader” event like Kumbh Mela (the massive bathing festival of Hindus) held on the banks of the river Ganges last month when hundreds of thousands of people gathered, or similar to political rallies held in states holding legislative assembly elections.
On Tuesday, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu hoisted a black flag above the roof of his house to support the farmers' demands.
Hoisting the Black Flag in Protest ... Every Punjabi must support the Farmers !! pic.twitter.com/CQEP32O3az— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) May 25, 2021
Protesting farmers, mostly from the northern Indian states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Punjab, are demanding that three laws passed by the federal government in September 2020 be scrapped.
The two new farm bills and one amendment that stirred this controversy are: the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020. They were passed during the monsoon session of the parliament in September of last year.
The farmers believe that the new laws, which replace fixed prices in the agricultural sector with a market-driven system, will pave the way for the minimum support price system (MSP) to be dismantled, leaving them at the mercy of big agribusiness.