Indian farmers call off 10-day protest after 'deal reached'

End of action against the Modi government follows violent clashes with police on New Delhi's outskirts
Indian farmers call off 10-day protest after 'deal reached'

Police fire tear gas to disperse protesting farmers at the Uttar Praddesh-New Delhi border on Oct. 2. The protest turned violent as thousands of farmers tried to run over barricades to enter the capital. (Photo IANS)

Thousands of Indian farmers have called off their 10-day protest in New Delhi after the federal government reportedly agreed to their major demands, which a church official said were "just and legitimate."

An estimated 30,000 farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh marched to New Delhi in the early hours of Oct. 3. The government allowed them to enter the capital following a violent confrontation with police on the outskirts of the city.

Media reports quoted protest leader Naresh Tikait saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government had agreed to seven of their 15 demands, including an increase in the minimum support price of farm produce.

"Farmers remain unfazed despite all the hardships. We have been marching for 12 days now. Farmers are tired as well. For now, we are ending the march," Tikait was quoted by IANS news agency as saying.

Bishop Alex Vadakumthala, chairman of the Indian bishops' commission for labor, has been supporting the strike.

"The farmers' demands are just and legitimate, and the government should take pro-active steps to make farming profitable," he said.

The prelate, based in southern Kerala state, also condemned police for using batons and water canon against the marching farmers to try and stop them from entering the national capital on Oct. 2. The date coincided with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation who advocated non-violence.

The farmers began their strike last week, seeking an increase in minimum support prices for all crops, an unconditional loan waiver, minimum guaranteed income and subsidized power and fuel. They also want a monthly pension for elderly farmers and the removal of a ban on diesel tractors.

"We witness farmer suicides and acute poverty among those who live on the bare minimum to feed others in the country," Bishop Vadakumthala said.

In 2015, a total of 8,007 debt-ridden farmers and 4,595 agricultural laborers committed suicide, according to federal data. In the previous year, 5,650 farmers and 6,710 agriculture laborers ended their lives.

The government stopped recording farmer suicides after 2015.

Bishop Jose Chittooparambil of Rajkot in western Gujarat state, said farmers made up more than 70 percent of the informal workforce in the country. "If the farm sector fails, it affects the entire nation," Bishop Chittooparambil said.

The bishop, also a member of the Indian bishops' commission on labor, blamed the policies of the Modi government, which he said focused on industry over agriculture.

"Unless the government takes steps to protect the interests of farmers it is not in the interest of the future of the country," he said.

India has witnessed frequent farmer strikes in recent years, sometimes resulting in violent clashes with police. In June, six protesting farmers were shot dead in Madhya Pradesh state.

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