Indian farmers begin hunger strike amid fury against Modi

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Farmers listen to their leaders during a day-long hunger strike as they continue to protest against three farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. Indian farmers and their leaders spearheading more than two months of protests against new agriculture laws began a daylong hunger strike Saturday, directing their fury toward Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. Farmer leaders said the hunger strike, which coincides with the death anniversary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, would reaffirm the peaceful nature of the protests. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI – Indian farmers taking part in more than two months of protest against new agriculture laws began a daylong hunger strike Saturday, as they sought to reaffirm the peaceful nature of their movement following recent violent clashes with police.

Farmer leaders said the hunger strike was timed to coincide with the death anniversary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who was famed for his nonviolent resistance to colonial rule. Nevertheless, the protesters said they remained furious at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government.

“The way the government is spreading planned lies and violence is condemnable," said a statement from the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front, a coalition of farmers’ unions.

Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the edge of New Delhi since November, seeking the repeal of laws passed in September that they say will favor large agribusiness and corporations, devastate the earnings of many farmers and leave those with small plots behind.

Modi and his allies say the laws are necessary to modernize Indian agriculture. Multiple rounds of talks between the two sides have been unsuccessful.

The protests had largely been peaceful but violence erupted on Tuesday, India’s Republic Day, when tens of thousands of farmers riding tractors and marching on foot knocked out police barricades and stormed New Delhi's 17th century Red Fort in a brief but shocking takeover.

The clashes left one protester dead and nearly 400 police officers injured. Officials did not say how many farmers were injured, but many were seen bloodied after police in riot gear hit them with batons and fired tear gas.

Tensions have remained high since, with sporadic clashes between protesters, police and unidentified groups shouting anti-farmer slogans. On Friday, a group of around 200 people barged into one protest site despite heavy security, threw stones at farmers and damaged their tents.