The Storm on India’s Republic Day

Angry with agricultural reforms which they see as benefitting large private buyers at the expense of smaller growers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped peacefully at sites on the outskirts of Delhi for more than two months. @EPA
01/29/2021
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Thousands of farmers overwhelmed police in central Delhi on January 26, India’s Republic Day, eventually storming the city’s historic Red Fort.

Angry with agricultural reforms which they see as benefitting large private buyers at the expense of smaller growers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped peacefully at sites on the outskirts of Delhi for more than two months.

What began as a parade of tractors and farmers protesting around the city’s fringes on Republic Day turned into chaos when some farmers diverted from the agreed routes, breaking through barricades and clashing with police, who responded with tear gas and batons. The violence left one dead and hundreds injured.

City police had given farmers unions permission to pass along three routes on the outskirts of Delhi, but barred them from entering the central part of the city where the Republic Day parade is held. The agreement with the police was to let protesters pass through after the parade had ended. However, the agreement unravelled as protesters broke away from the planned rally.

The Storm on India’s Republic Day
@Reuters

Protesters moved through Delhi on tractors before eventually congregating outside the Red Fort, a historic Mughal palace where Indian prime ministers deliver the annual Independence Day speech.

At the fort the protesters scaled the walls and ramparts. Once inside, they hoisted flags of the farmers’ unions and those of religious significance to the Sikh community.

The Storm on India’s Republic Day EPA
@EPA

How big were these protests

People and tractors had been arriving at Delhi’s borders from several parts of the country for the past several days. At Singhu, one of the three entry points, the police estimated that 6,000-7,000 tractors had gathered, the largest of the three contingents. However, farmers unions said as many as 200,000 tractors had gathered for the rally across the outskirts of the city.

Agriculture employs about half of the workforce in India’s population of 1.3 billion and unrest among an estimated 150 million landowning farmers is one of the biggest challenges to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he came to power in 2014.

Scroll down to see the scale of lining up 7,000 tractors which the police stated were present at one of the entry points.

Farmers stated that there were as many as 200,000 tractors gathered for the rally. That is 28 times the line of tractors above. End to end that would be 800 kilometres.

The aftermath

Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the group of farm unions organising the protests, condemned the violence.

Protesters damaged the scanning machines, metal detectors, a police vehicle and the washroom at the Red Fort complex. Police said they had detained 200 protesters on charges of assault and vandalism during the violence on Tuesday.

Roads across New Delhi remained closed while extra police, including paramilitary units, were positioned at protest sites on the outskirts.

—By Gurman Bhatia and Anand Katakam

 

Sources

OpenStreetMap; Local media; Reuters reporting

Additional inputs

Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal, Alasdair Pal, Anushree Fadnavis, Danish Siddiqui and Adnan Abidi. Tractor illustration by Wen Foo.

Edited by

Mike Collett-White

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