Delhi Police is using iron nails, rods, barbed wire, boulders and makeshift walls to barricade borders of the capital city against thousands of riot-prone protesting farmers. The heightened security — that some activists are dubbing as “war-like” — comes amid a tense standoff with the government over agricultural reform laws.
Now in its third month, the protest refuses to subside despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to put the laws on hold for 12-18 months. The rich and broker-influenced farmers, from states where the beneficiaries of the minimum support price are largely concentrated, would settle for nothing less than a repeal of the laws.
These farmers rioted last week on Republic Day when protesters and police clashed after thousands of farmers entered the capital as part of a massive tractor rally. They hurt hundreds of officers while a protester died trying to perform a daredevil act of blowing away a barricade with the impact of his tractor that overturned. Farmers’ unions condemned the riot but said they would not withdraw the protest. Instead, they have announced another march on 6 February where they plan to block highways leading into the national capital. Meanwhile, the situation at the protest sites — Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri — has steadily worsened.
Delhi and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh have deployed police personnel and drones at the sites. Both administrations have started blocking the area around the protest sites, effectively delinking the farmers from ways into the city.
Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava defended the barricading. “I am surprised that when tractors were used, police were attacked, barricades were broken on 26 January, no questions were raised,” he told news agency ANI. “What did we do now?” he asked, “We have just strengthened barricading so that it’s not broken again.”
At the Delhi-Haryana border, police officials have blocked roads with large concrete slabs and hammered huge iron nails upside down across the width of the road leading up to the Tikri protest site.
A member of the Kisan (Farmer) Social Army, Anoop Chanaut said that he was surprised that the government had said it was just a phone call away. “But then they install barricading as if this is an international border! We are sitting peacefully on our front and we will remain seated. But if we want to move forward to surround the parliament, these barricades will not stop us,” the farmer-activist said, issuing a veiled threat.
Many on social media likened the fortification to fencing at international borders. #FencinglikeChinaPak rose to the top of Twitter trends in India.
Police officials at the protest sites said, however, they received orders to ramp up security in these places. Demonstrators assume that the police have taken these measures so that the number of tents at the site does not multiply.
Two days ago, police ordered a pouring of concrete between stone barriers to keep them fixed, immovable by manual force. Alternating rows of metal and stone barriers dot the main highway.
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram users shared video and pictures. At the Singhu border, barricading stretches up to 2 km on the side of Delhi. The road is also dug up.
Police are allowing select vehicles to go beyond the barricade and journalists are not allowed in. The cops have blocked all routes.
A farmer leader present at the Singhu site likened the barricading on the border of Delhi and Haryana to Trump’s ‘Mexico wall’. This, he said, was no way of creating an atmosphere of dialogue. “The government is taking inhuman steps. This includes cutting electricity, shutting off water and shutting down the internet. Now the government is barricading. This should stop immediately.”
Farmer collective leader Satnam Singh Pannu said that barricading at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur was the government’s attempt to hit the morale of the farmers. “The farmers are still enthusiastic. We will go back only when the laws are repealed.”