Desperate Indian farmers march on parliament

Indian farmers take part in a march organised by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) organization and Communist Party of India (Marxist) alongwith other leftist groups in New Delhi on November 29, 2018, as they call for pro-farmer legislation in the Indian parliament. (AFP)
Updated 01 December 2018
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Desperate Indian farmers march on parliament

  • Some 50,000 marched in the eastern city of Kolkata on Wednesday

New Delhi: Tens of thousands of farmers and agricultural workers marched toward the Indian parliament Friday demanding debt waivers and higher crop prices, putting pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of 2019 elections.
More than 300,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves in the last two decades mainly because of poor irrigation, failed crops and being unable to pay back loans.
Farmers from across the country flooded by train and bus into Delhi since Thursday to mass in the capital city’s Ramlila Grounds before marching to parliament.
Organizers said some 80,000 farmers and farm laborers were participating in the two-day agitation that will culminate with a petition to the Indian president after the march was stopped half-a-mile ahead of the parliament house.
Police erected hundreds of steel barricades to stop the marching crowds and kept water cannon on stand-by in case of any disorder.
The gathering was one of the biggest to hit the Indian capital since 2012 protests over the gang rape of a student.
Participants marched through central Delhi chanting slogans and holding placards emblazoned with “Down With Modi Government” and “Long Live Farmer Unity” as thousands of riot and armed policemen stood guard.
“The farmer crisis has got twice as bad in the last five years,” Sadhu Singh, a farmer from northern Punjab state known as India’s rice bowl, told AFP.
“We are losing money on every grain of rice we produce,” he said.
Some 200 farmer groups backed by left-leaning political parties have set three main demands for the government, including a nationwide waiver of farm loans, better prices for their produce and a special parliament session to discuss their plight.
The mass rally is the latest bid by farmer groups to put pressure on the Modi government ahead of the 2019 national elections.
The right-wing nationalist leader has promised to double their income by 2022 but farmers say nothing has changed for them.
The issue has also become a political flashpoint as India prepares for the elections expected next April or May, with Modi’s political rivals backing the farmers, a key voter base.
“The farmers are not asking for a free gift, they’re asking for what is due to them,” Rahul Gandhi, Modi’s main rival from the opposition Congress party, told the gathering.
The rally saw dozens of opposition leaders launching scathing attack on the Modi government over the agrarian crisis.
Opposition parties have accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of being pro-rich and anti-farmer.
The right-wing nationalist party has rebutted these claims.

Farmers’ distress has been a cause for worry for several decades, but the crisis has come to a head in recent months, with farmers spilling on to streets across the country.
Thousands of farmers crippled Mumbai — capital of Maharashtra state — in March. The western state witnessed some 639 farmer suicides in the first three months of 2018, according to government.
Some 50,000 marched in the eastern city of Kolkata on Wednesday.
Nearly 55 percent of India’s 1.25 billion population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. The sector accounts for around 15 percent of India’s economic output.
India is the global leader in cotton production followed by wheat, rice and sugar.
Each year millions of small farmers suffer due to scant irrigation facilities that reduce the yield and lead farmers into a deadly cycle of debt and suicides.
India lacks a robust irrigation infrastructure and most of the country’s farmland relies on annual monsoon rains. Excessive rains or floods too prove devastating.
Labo Banigo from eastern Odisha state said he is under huge debts after his crops failed due to back-to-back bad monsoons.
“My farm is a wasteland. There is hardly 10 percent produce,” Banigo told AFP.
“Modi promised to double our income but we can’t even feed ourselves.”


13 under arrest for Sri Lanka blasts: police

Sri Lankan security personnel keep watch outside the church premises following a blast at the St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade in Colombo on April 21, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019
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13 under arrest for Sri Lanka blasts: police

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police have arrested 13 men in connection with bomb blasts on churches and hotels that killed more than 200 people, officials said Monday.
Authorities have not made public details on those held after Sunday’s attacks. But a police source told AFP the 13 were detained at two locations in and around Colombo.
The source said the 13 men are from the same radical group.
At least two of the eight attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, according to police and other sources, and three police were killed when another suicide bomber detonated explosives during a raid on a house where suspects were.