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Farmers In India Storm Historic Fort And Clash With Police

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tens of thousands of farmers have stormed a historic fort in India's capital. Indian farmers have been rallying on the outskirts of Delhi for about two months. And today, they moved into the city, where clashes broke out between farmers and police. Rallies in solidarity with the farmers are also happening across India, including in Mumbai, where we find NPR's Lauren Frayer. Lauren, good morning. Remind us, why are these farmers protesting in the first place?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning. So these Indian farmers are angry about three agricultural laws that were passed last September. Basically, the laws deregulate wholesale vegetable markets in India. Farmers used to sell their produce just to the government, and now they're allowed to sell directly to markets. And many farmers worry that they'll lose these price guarantees that they had under the old system. Now, that sounds really technical, but just think about it. Two-thirds of Indians work in agriculture. So this is a really big deal for a really big number of people.

MARTIN: Yeah. So today looks like this protest movement stepped it up a notch, stepped up action in Delhi. What's the situation there right now?

FRAYER: Yeah. So farmers mounted their tractors festooned with Indian tricolor flags. It's a national holiday here today, Republic Day. And they rolled into Delhi. And supporters lined the streets in some places, cheering them on, throwing flowers in their path. The farmers had permits to do this big tractor convoy, but some broke through police barricades, and clashes have erupted. And here's what it sounds like.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

FRAYER: And police are firing tear gas now at some of the farmers. Authorities have shut off the Internet in parts of Delhi, and now farmers have stormed the Red Fort. And that's a 17th-century Mogul fort in the heart of Delhi. It's really iconic on the Delhi skyline. And the farmers climbed up the ramparts of this fort and are waving flags there and chanting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

MARTIN: Wow. So what has been Modi's response?

FRAYER: Well, today, Modi attended a military parade and some ceremonies for Republic Day I mentioned, this national holiday. It's sort of like the Fourth of July. It's a day off work. It's a national holiday. And it marks 71 years since India's post-colonial constitution took effect. So Modi presided over those ceremonies. But his government has been negotiating with these farmers for months. And in fact, his government recently offered the farm unions a deal to suspend these controversial agricultural laws for 18 months. And the farm unions said no, that they want them repealed forever. So it's really a stalemate right now.

MARTIN: I understand you've just gotten back from a solidarity rally in Mumbai. What was that like?

FRAYER: So much more peaceful, smaller. These rallies have been held around the country, including here in Mumbai, where I am. But I talked to ladies who are in their 50s who came out to show support for the farmers. They were dressed in white and orange and green, the colors of the Indian flag. And they really represent, you know, sort of - people of all walks of life are expressing solidarity with these farmers. These ladies told me that their grandfathers had been farmers. You know, so many Indian families have agricultural roots, you know, a generation or two back. So it's really a big part of Indian identity. And these farmers have widespread support in the population.

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer in Mumbai, thank you for bringing this story to us. We appreciate it.

FRAYER: You're welcome, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.