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Farmers’ unions call for nationwide shutdown in India over new agriculture laws

Click to play video 'Indian farmers call for peaceful nationwide shutdown on Tuesday' Indian farmers call for peaceful nationwide shutdown on Tuesday
Award-winning author Amandeep Sandhu joined Neetu Garcha on Global News Morning to explain the calls for a shutdown, otherwise known as 'Bharat Bandh', why talks with the Indian government remain stalled, and his thoughts on Prime Minister Trudeau's response – Dec 7, 2020

Farmers protesting three new agriculture laws in India are calling for a peaceful shutdown across the country on Tuesday, referred to as Bharat Bandh.

This comes a day ahead of their sixth meeting with the government on Wednesday.

“More than 50 per cent of the nation is involved in agriculture… the sector has been suffering for the last many decades and farmers have been protesting — labourers, traders have also been protesting,” author Amandeep Sandhu, who has written about and chronicled the history of Punjab, told Global News on Monday.

Sandhu, who is based in Bangalore and said he’s been in touch with several protesters in Dehli on a daily basis, said talks are stalled because repealing the three farm bills remains non-negotiable.

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The Indian government maintains the reforms will benefit the struggling sector by eliminating state middlemen and deregulating agriculture.

Farmers fear the new laws spell a death sentence, with tens of thousands of them camping in the cold and blocking major highways to continue their protest until the bills are repealed.

“What these new laws do is they solve none of the structural issues in agriculture but throw the whole sector to the corporates, to the crony capitalists and to the big businessmen, and that is of great concern to the farmers and the labourers and the traders and everybody who is involved with the agrarian system,” Sandhu said.

“They’re allowing the corporates to draw lopsided agreements with no real legal recourse for the farmers and that will really shatter the farmers if the corporates renege on their promises.”

Police have fired tear gas and water canons on protesters who have garnered international support.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is believed to be the first world leader to speak out, saying Canada will “always stand up for the right for peaceful protest” and rejecting the resulting criticism from Canada’s envoy to India.

“It might be his domestic compulsion because Jagmeet Singh of the NDP is supporting his government and he knows that he has a large Punjabi Sikh support, but we are from Punjab and … many other states’ farmers are also protesting,” Sandhu said, encouraging other world leaders to speak out as well.

Bharat Bandh is scheduled to last from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will signal the closure of offices, shops, dairy shipments and transport operators.

“Bharat” stands for India and “bandh” means closed. Bandhs have long been used as tools to protest against government policies.

It’s expected there will be significant implications for the northern state of Punjab, where most of the protesting farmers are from and where several groups have extended support for the bandh.

When it comes to COVID-19, Sandhu said the farmers are concerned about the spread.

“Why did the government have to bring out these laws during the COVID-19 time, why did they have to ram it through the parliament during the [pandemic],” he said, adding “the only shining light is that the fatality rate has not been as high as expected six months back… but it is a do-or-die situation for the farmers.”
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The organized strike began on Nov. 26, when farmers began their march towards the nation’s capital.