New Delhi, Nov 26 (efe-epa).- India on Thursday witnessed day-long anti-government protests due to a nationwide strike by an estimated 250 million workers along with a farmers’ march towards capital New Delhi to protest agrarian reforms.
The strike, called by dozens of workers’ unions including the trade union wing of the main opposition party Indian National Congress, on Thursday affected services such as banking and transport, while many government offices were also closed.
The All India Bank Employees Association said it was participating in the strike to protest against privatization of public-sector banks and the Indian government’s “anti-worker” laws.
News broadcasters aired footage of trade union demonstrations in the southern states of Kerala, where the general strike was the most effective, along with the eastern Bengal region..
Simultaneously, the northern states of Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh witnessed massive protests by farmers against new and controversial farm laws that allow large retailers to directly purchase products from farmers.
“The government, instead of guaranteeing prices and bringing security, has brought in new laws which corporatize this whole business of agricultural trade. This is not what the farmers wanted, the farmers want the government to guarantee prices,” Avril Saha, secretary of the All India Farmers’ Struggle Coordination Committee, told EFE.
The three controversial laws seek to deregulate prices and quantity sold of certain commodities deemed essential, permit and facilitate contract farming, and allow private markets to function outside the physical boundaries of the government-regulated wholesale markets, also called mandis.
Authorities had deployed a large amount of police personnel on the borders between the nortern states, trying to prevent the protesters from carrying out their march to Delhi.
The protests, which have continued for weeks especially in Punjab – where roads and railway lines were blocked by farmers – have been banned in the capital due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The farmers are merely marching to delhi and barricades have been put by the police (…) in a completely illegal manner,” Saha said, adding that demonstrators have been asked to carry out a sit-in protest in front of the barriers.
However, he admitted that “at some places, some people will try to break the barricades.”
Footage broadcast by various news channels showed police using water cannons and teargas at the border between Punjab and Haryana as the farmers tried to remove the barricades and continue their march.
The protests come at time when Covid-19 cases continue to rise among India’s 1.3 billion population, with over 9.2 million infections registered so far.
India is the second worst-affected country by the pandemic after the United States. EFE-EPA