Indian farmers announce four-hour nationwide rail blockade

The protesting farmers in India have announced a four-hour nationwide rail blockade on February 18 in order to intensify their campaign against the controversial agriculture laws.

The umbrella organisation of farm unions Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) unveiled its plans for the month and announced that all road plazas in Rajasthan will be made toll-free on February 12.

The protestors will organise a candlelight and torch march on February 14 to remember the sacrifice of the soldiers lost their lives in the Pulwama incident, said SKM spokesperson Darshan Pal.

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The farmers will organise events after two days in connection with the birth anniversary of Sir Chhotu Ram who is known as one of the most prominent pre-partition farmer leaders, reported Indian media.

The joint farmers’ front announced a four-hour blockade of trains across the country on February 18 from 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm.

Angry at what they see as legislation that benefits private buyers at the expense of growers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, for more than two months, calling for the withdrawal of laws introduced in September.

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The farmers have already been braving New Delhi’s winter by sleeping in the open for months on national highways. Their protests have mostly been peaceful but a tractor rally on Jan. 26 flared into turmoil as some farmers clashed with police and one person was killed and hundreds were injured.

The government says reform of the inefficient agriculture sector will open up new opportunities for farmers and while it has offered some concessions, it has ruled out withdrawing the laws.

Since then, authorities have shut down the mobile internet in parts of the national capital and heavily barricaded border roads to prevent protesters from coming into the city again.

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“The rights to peaceful assembly & expression should be protected both offline & online,” the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Twitter, calling on authorities and protesters to exercise “maximum restraint.”

“It’s crucial to find equitable solutions with due respect to #HumanRights for all.”

The issue has also caught international attention with celebrities such as pop star Rihanna and environment campaigner Greta Thunberg announcing their support for the farmers. The United States also urged India to resume talks with farmers.