Hundreds arrested as farmers launch nation-wide protests

Written by Sally Balazs for CNN

In a groundswell of social protests, tens of thousands of farmers in several Indian states took to the streets Sunday, calling for better crop prices and better working conditions on farms.

The protests — part of a yearlong campaign organized by state-level farmers’ rights groups — led to violent clashes in Odisha. The Indian authorities ordered the suspension of television stations in Odisha amid violent protests on Saturday.

A column of protesters led by union farmers leader, Birender Singh, marched on the state capital of Bhubaneswar, chanting slogans in support of higher crop prices. Some, however, resorted to violence.

Smaller protesters who attempted to block the main entrance to Bhubaneswar met resistance from police, resulting in violence. Meanwhile, authorities arrested hundreds of farm activists across northern India.

Hundreds of farmers were also taken into custody for damaging property and assaulting police in Chhattisgarh, a state neighboring Odisha, according to officials.

The protests follow the yearlong sops and discounts offered by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the general election last year. This, as farmers’ financial situation has deteriorated.

In the first phase of the protests — which were organized in states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh — the agitating farmers called for major wage increases for agricultural laborers. The wage rates were to be hiked by between 40% and 150% from March 1 to June 30.

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The protests spread across hundreds of thousands of farmers, with reports of clashes with police and 1,000 police personnel injured.

A spokesperson for the Assam government said the protesters — who crossed 10,000 people — had attacked police and government property. Several churches were attacked by protesters and government offices were also damaged, the official said.

Some protesters were also reported to have set fire to two government buses, rendering them half-defunct. More than 6,000 security personnel were deployed to prevent further violence.

Indian Bank president at the time, Usha Ananthasubramanian said Friday that the agitation was instigated by Maoist militants, and failed to achieve their main goal.

“All states have not received a reasonable amount of support from the agriculture ministry,” she said, adding, “The union government does not want to provide farm support. The farming community is not happy and they are agitated… The movement should have been called off at the state level,” she said.

Hordes of protesters gathered in the northern states of Uttarakhand and Haryana on Sunday. While the protests were largely peaceful, the number of protesters was nowhere near their peak.

The agitations come amid rising levels of discontent in India.

Over one million farmers in eight states are protesting against government regulations, including a blanket ban on fertilizers for 18 months. The Prime Minister Modi had promised in 2014 that every farm would be covered by electricity.

In a recent letter, the farmers’ representatives said the move is inflaming protests and called on the state governments to restore farm incomes.

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