25 Indian farmers die during protests as Modi visits temple in sop to angry Sikh farmers
Protest against new farm laws passed by the Indian parliament on the Singhu border - REUTERS / Danish Siddiqui
At least 25 Indian farmers have died in protests against controversial laws when Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to ease growing tensions with a surprise visit to a Sikh temple in New Delhi on Sunday.
Fourteen deaths have been attributed to the cold as around 500,000 farmers - most of them Sikhs - continue to sleep in their tractors and block roads outside of Delhi, even though temperatures drop to 3 ° C at night.
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Ten deaths occurred in road accidents when farmers from the surrounding states of Punjab and Haryana traveled to Delhi while a prominent Sikh priest from Haryana shot himself to death in protest against the new legislation.
Farmers say they will continue to occupy the streets, which will result in continued food disruption in the Indian capital until the proposed farm bills are lifted.
The protesting farmers went on a one-day hunger strike on Monday, while union leaders announced plans to occupy toll booths in the Delhi area from December 25th.
Farmers have been demonstrating for weeks - SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP via Getty Images
Farmers claim that the proposed Farm Bill's fixed price guarantees on crops in state markets will lift and instead force them to negotiate sales of their produce to the private sector.
Farmers fear that a monopoly of several large companies will cause the price of their crops to fall, while also losing government guarantees against price fluctuations in the free market.
With two-thirds of Indians employed in agriculture, the farmers largely enjoy the nation's support, and on November 26, 250 million Indians took part in a nationwide strike in support of the farmers.
It's also about life and not just about livelihood. In Punjab, prices for land and agricultural products have risen 300 percent since 2016, while crop prices have only increased 19 percent.
This has put pressure on farmers' profits and has resulted in many smallholder farmers - 86 percent of Indian farmers owning less than two acres - running up thousands of pounds in crippling debt.
In a cycle of priceless debt, Punjab is experiencing a dramatic increase in suicides among its farmers.
Sikhs make up the majority of the Punjab population and lead the protests in Delhi.
Amid growing criticism from Sikhs around the world, Mr. Modi made a surprise visit to Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in New Delhi on Sunday.
Mr. Modi offered prayers and invited other worshipers for a rare opportunity to take photos with him to build bridges with the Sikh community.
Five rounds of talks between Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata party and the farmers' union leaders have turned out to be inconclusive. Farmers refused to compromise on anything other than a complete withdrawal of the Farm Bills.
Further talks are expected this week as farmers have threatened to next occupy roads in New Delhi if their demands are not met.
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