GHAZIABAD, India (Reuters) – Hundreds of Indian farmers protesting against agricultural reforms and refusing to disperse were locked in a stand-off with riot police on Thursday on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi.
Angry at what they see as laws that benefit large private buyers at the expense of growers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped peacefully at sites on the outskirts of Delhi for more than two months.
But a procession of tractors on Tuesday turned violent when some protesters deviated from pre-agreed routes, tearing down barricades and clashing with police who responded with tear gas.
Some reached as far as Delhi’s historic Red Fort, where they scaled the ramparts and hoisted flags. The violence left one dead and hundreds injured.
Several hundred police arrived at the Ghazipur protest site to the east of the capital, where hundreds of protesters remain.
More than two dozen people also gathered nearby, chanting slogans against the farmers, according to a Reuters witness.
Rakesh Chauhan, information officer for Ghaziabad district where the protest is taking place, told Reuters the protesters had been ordered to move by Thursday evening.
But after meeting with police and government officials, farm leaders had refused.
“We will not empty this protest site,” said Rakesh Tikait, one of the farm leaders. “I will take a bullet here if I have to.”
Agriculture employs about half 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 coming to power in 2014.
Protests at other locations around Delhi have not yet been ordered to end.
(This story has been refiled to fix misspelling of “Hundreds”, in first paragraph)
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in Ghaziabad and Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Nick Macfie)