Farmers in India began a sit-in near parliament in the city on Thursday to protest new agriculture regulations they believe threaten their livelihoods, reiterating their call for the laws to be repealed.
Tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on major highways leading to New Delhi for more than seven months in the longest-running growers’ protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Police in New Delhi led 200 farmers from protest sites on the outskirts to Jantar Mantar, a massive Mughal-era observatory in the heart of the city that also serves as a protest venue, on Thursday.
“We are here to remind the government that anti-farmer laws must be repealed to protect Indian agriculture and millions of poor farmers from being completely taken over by large corporations,” Rakesh Tikait, a leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, one of the country’s largest farmer organizations, told Reuters.
Farmers reported that police checked their identification cards before allowing them to congregate at the central site, and that security has been strengthened, with walls and checkpoints erected to prevent violence.
Thousands of irate farmers clashed with police late in January after driving tractors into security barriers, prompting the demonstration. One protester was killed and more than 80 police injured citywide.
“Throughout the monsoon session of parliament, 200 farmers will go to Jantar Mantar every day to hold a farmers’ parliament to remind the government of our long-pending demand,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, another leader of the farmers.
Parliament ends its monsoon session early in August, and the farmers have been allowed to gather until Aug. 9.
In parliament, key opposition leaders, such as Rahul Gandhi and Harsimrat Kaur Badal, asked the government to tackle the farmers’ concerns and roll back the three controversial laws.
Many senior members of Gandhi’s Congress party, which is the main opposition group, gathered in the compound of parliament, carrying placards that read “Save the country, Save the farmers,” and shouting slogans of support.
The farm laws introduced in September 2020 will help boost growers’ incomes, and the government was willing to talk to the farmers, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters in parliament.
Farmers, however, say the new laws favour large private retailers by freeing them to buy farm goods outside government-regulated wholesale grain markets.