Farmers39 protest Police deny death on Punjab border

Farmers' protest: Police deny death on Punjab border

  • By Arvind Chhabra in Haryana, Gagandeep Singh Jassowal in Pataila and Meryl Sebastian in Kochi
  • BBC News

February 21, 2024, 04:58 GMT

Updated 1 hour ago

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Farmers flee tear gas at the Shambhu Barrier – a border crossing between the states of Punjab and Haryana

A protester has died as farmers tried to continue their march on the Indian capital after four rounds of talks with the federal government failed to end the deadlock.

The 22-year-old's death was confirmed to the BBC by Punjab's health minister and a hospital official.

The farmers' union had previously claimed that the demonstrator had died in a police operation.

However, Haryana Police said that “no farmer” died in the protest.

The farmers, demanding guaranteed prices for their crops, find themselves in conflict with the police who are trying to prevent them from reaching Delhi.

The last time they protested in the capital, they hid at Delhi's borders for months. So officials are trying to prevent a repeat by fortifying the city limits with layers of barricades and barbed wire.

Police fired tear gas at the protesters as they tried to approach the border, BBC Punjabi reported. The farmers protected themselves from the shelling with masks, gloves and safety suits.

The death of farmer Shubh Karan Singh on the Punjab-Haryana border is the first since protests began on February 13.

He came from Balon village in Bathinda district of Punjab, his uncle told the BBC, and was his family's sole breadwinner.

According to Dr. Harnam Singh Rekhi, medical superintendent of Rajindra Hospital in Patiala, said his cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. He told the BBC that more details would be released following a post-mortem.

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The farmers try to reach Delhi but are blocked by security forces

Dr. Balbir Singh, Punjab's health minister, told the BBC that a second boy also suffered a gunshot wound but “fortunately he survived.” He added that at least 13 people were being treated for injuries in hospitals in Punjab.

However, the Haryana Police's official X account (formerly Twitter) said reports of a farmer's death late on Wednesday were “just a rumour”.

The demonstrators were also accused of attacking officers “with sticks and clubs and throwing stones,” injuring twelve people.

Farmers say they will now stage a sit-in for the next two days.

They had earlier warned that they would use heavy machinery to enter Delhi. Images from the Shambhu border – where many farmers have been since last week – show thousands preparing to overcome barriers with bulldozers and earthmoving machines.

Many of the demonstrators flew kites to hinder police use of drones to drop tear gas grenades on them.

Farm leaders also frequently called for unity and appealed to security forces not to attack their “brothers.”

Image source: Getty Images

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Farmers brought bulldozers to remove the physical obstacles that stood in their way

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Arjun Munde has invited farmers to a fifth round of talks. “It is important for us to keep the peace,” he wrote on X. Farmers have yet to accept this invitation.

The latest round of protests also comes months ahead of general elections in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a third term in office. Farmers form an influential voting bloc in India and analysts say the government will be careful not to anger or alienate them.

Farmer leaders said their march was peaceful and called on the government to allow them entry into the capital.

“We did our best from our side. We attended the meetings and discussed every issue, now the decision lies with the government. We will remain peaceful but we should be allowed to remove these barriers and march towards Delhi,” farm leader Sarwan Singh Pandher told reporters.

The government has held four rounds of meetings with farmer unions so far. Protesters say the government has failed to keep promises made during the 2020-21 protests and have also demanded pensions and debt relief.

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They are also prepared for the effects of tear gas and many wear goggles and masks to protect themselves

On Monday, farmer representatives rejected a proposal to buy some crops at guaranteed prices under a five-year contract, saying the offer was “not in their interest.”

The government had proposed purchasing pulses, maize and cotton through cooperatives at guaranteed minimum prices – also known as minimum support price or MSP – for five years.

But farmers say they will stick to their demand for a “legal guarantee of MSP for all 23 crops”.

Meanwhile, Haryana police have asked their counterparts in Punjab to keep women, children and journalists at least 1 km away from the borders for their safety. They have also asked the Punjab Police to seize bulldozers and other heavy machinery from the protest sites.

In Delhi, security measures have been tightened and large gatherings have been banned for a month.

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