Indian farmers and their leaders spearheading more than two months of protests against new agriculture laws have started a one-day hunger strike, directing their fury as prime minister Narendra Modi and his government.
Farmer leaders said the hunger strike, which coincides with the anniversary of the death of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, will reaffirm the peaceful nature of the protests.
“The way the government is spreading planned lies and violence is condemnable,” said Samyukta Kisan Morcha of United Farmers’ Front, a coalition of farmers’ unions. He is one of hundreds of protest leaders taking part in the strike.
Farmers are demanding the withdrawal of laws passed by parliament last September which they say will favour large corporations, devastate the earnings of many farmers and leave those with small plots behind.
The long-running protests have largely been peaceful but violence erupted on Tuesday, India’s Republic Day, when tens of thousands of farmers riding tractors and on foot stormed the 17th-century Red Fort in a brief but shocking takeover.
Clashes between the protesters and government forces left one protester dead and nearly 400 police injured.
Officials did not say how many protesting farmers were injured, but television channels showed many of them bloodied after police in riot gear hit them with batons and fired tear gas.
Police also filed cases against journalists, activists and opposition politicians, accusing them of sedition and inciting violence.
Mr Modi and his leaders have described the laws as necessary to modernise Indian agriculture, but farmers have vowed to stay at protest sites until the legislation is repealed.
Since November, tens of thousands have hunkered down at the edge of the capital while multiple rounds of talks with the government have been unsuccessful.
The protests by farmers, the most influential voting bloc in India, pose the biggest challenge to Mr Modi. They brought together 16 opposition parties on Friday when they boycotted the president’s address to parliament.
Sporadic clashes between protesters, police and unidentified groups shouting anti-farmer slogans have broken out since Tuesday’s tractor rally.
On Friday, a group of around 200 people, claiming to be local residents, barged into one protest site despite heavy security, throwing stones at farmers and damaging their tents.
The group demanded that farmers leave the area and said they had “insulted” the national flag during their tractor parade on Republic Day.
The farmers alleged that the vandals were largely made up of members of a Hindu nationalist group that has close ties with Mr Modi’s party.