UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Tuesday called for calm in the wake of violent clashes in New Delhi between the protesting Indian farmers and the police that left one person dead and many more injured.
“As we say many of these cases, I think it’s important to respect peaceful protests, freedom of assembly and non-violence,” his Spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in response to a question at the regular noon briefing in New York. The spokesman did not elaborate.
The clashes were the worst violence in weeks amid what has become one of the longest-running labour standoffs in Indian history that poses a big challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The farmers had announced that they would hold massive rallies on Tuesday to coincide with India’s Republic Day.
Mostly Sikhs from the states of Punjab and Haryana, the farmers began their protests in mid-November, marching to Delhi and setting up makeshift camps on the capital’s borders. They have held their ground since then, occasionally organizing big tractor-led marches into the capital.
They are demanding Modi’s government repeal three farming laws aimed at deregulating the country’s agriculture sector.
“As we say in many of these cases, I think it's important to respect peaceful protests, freedom of assembly and non-violence” – Spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) January 27, 2021
The farmers say the laws will help big businesses but destroy the livelihoods of smaller farmers, who make up the backbone of the agriculture sector.
Farmers’ leaders say they have enough supplies to keep their protest camps going for a year if necessary. The leaders said the police had provoked the farmers into violence.
In a statement, police replied that they had to act after the farmers broke the conditions for the rally and took “the path of violence and destruction”.
“When you attack a peaceful protest, then difficulties for the government will surely increase,” union leader Kawalpreet Singh Pannu told AFP. “This won’t stop here. Our movement and message have only become stronger.”
He said a new protest would be held on February 1 outside parliament when the government announces its budget.
On one main road, people on rooftops threw petals on the tractor convoys. Elsewhere people cheered and applauded as farmers went past waving Indian flags and blowing horns.
The government says that the farmers have been manipulated by opposition parties which have largely backed the rural campaign.
Ten rounds of talks between farm unions and ministers have failed to break the deadlock.
The farmers have demanded the government repeal the laws, but the administration has only offered to delay implementation for 18 months.
Smaller farmer demonstrations were held in Mumbai and Bangalore and in the rural state of Haryana.
APP with additional input by GVS News Desk