Indian security forces used tear gas on Tuesday to prevent thousands of farmers from marching on the capital New Delhi after talks with the government failed. Local broadcasters showed thick clouds of tear gas being fired to disperse protesters near Ambala, about 200 kilometres north of the capital, with police dropping canisters from the air by drones. Police have set up metal spikes, cement, and steel barricades on the highways from three surrounding states leading to New Delhi. Public gatherings of more than five people have been banned in the city.
Farmers in India have significant political influence due to their large numbers, and their protests come ahead of national elections likely to begin in April. Two-thirds of India’s 1.4 billion people rely on agriculture for their livelihood, and farmers have called for a “March to Delhi” to demand minimum crop prices and other concessions. The protesters remain determined, with some using tractors to clear roads and head towards the capital.
The farmers are demanding a law to fix a minimum price for their crops, as well as other concessions including loan waivers. The protests come after lengthy demonstrations against agricultural reform bills in November 2020, which resulted in at least 700 deaths. In November 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushed through the repeal of three contentious laws, which farmers claimed would let private companies control the agriculture sector. Thousands of Indian farmers die by suicide every year due to poverty, debt, and crops affected by erratic weather patterns caused by climate change.