By Mayank Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Thousands of Indian farmers gathered at a grain market outside New Delhi on Tuesday in protest against new agricultural laws they say threaten their livelihoods, condemning “brutal” actions by police during similar demonstrations last week.
“A large number of farmers are attending the meeting to ask the government to punish those responsible for using force against unarmed and elderly farmers,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, a senior farmers’ leader.
The grain market where farmers met is about 150 km (93 miles) from New Delhi, in neighbouring Haryana state. After initial talks with government officials failed, farmers later marched from the market to the main government office in the Karnal district of Haryana to press their demands, Rajewal said.
Some farm union leaders have been arrested by Haryana police, but farmers are going to stay put there, he said.
“The use of excess, disproportionate force was not only brutal, but it was also a vengeful act,” Rajewal said.
Last month, about 10 farmers were injured after police resorted to baton charges to stop protesters from blocking a Haryana highway. One farmer died later although officials say the death was not due to baton injuries.
Authorities in Haryana stepped up security and shut down mobile internet services, state government officials said. In addition to a large police deployment, the government has also positioned paramilitary forces, they said.
For more than eight months, tens of thousands of farmers have camped on major highways to New Delhi to oppose the farm laws in India’s longest-running growers’ protest.
More than half a million farmers participated in a protest in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh on Sunday – the biggest rally yet – demanding the withdrawal of the laws, introduced in September last year.
Farm leaders say the laws would erode a longstanding mechanism that ensures farmers a minimum guaranteed price for their rice and wheat, but the government says this will help growers get better prices.
(Reporting by Mayank BhardwajEditing by Sam Holmes, William Maclean)