The borders of India’s national capital could give some of the most war-torn areas on the planet a complex right now.
Over the past two days, the Narendra Modi government has erected iron spikes, heavy metal and concrete barriers, and fences on several borders of New Delhi where thousands of farmers have been peacefully protestings against three new agriculture laws introduced in the country. Internet services in the border areas have been suspended, and there have also been reports of water and power supply disruptions.
The war zone-like preparation comes around a week after a farmers rally in Delhi took a violent turn. The government has claimed these are “precautionary measures” to avoid another such outburst.
But the scenes from the borders appear do be much more than a precaution.
Scenes from Delhi’s borders
Several kinds of barriers are restricting farmers or others from the protesting sites to come into Delhi, and for outsiders to reach the protestors.
As per social media posts, on Feb. 1, the authorities embedded over 2,000 iron nails on the road leading up to the main protest site at Delhi’s Tikri border to stop people from reaching there.
The police personnel also fenced the Delhi border near Ghazipur with barbed wires to stop the protesting farmers entering the national capital from the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh.
On Feb. 1, activist and politician Yogendra Yadav alleged that the Indian Railways is diverting trains to prevent farmers from reaching the borders to join the protests.
Protesting farmers claim the police is trying to crush their movement.
“…Are they so scared of farmers? We are not going anywhere, we will be here with discipline, unity and peace because that’s our strength… My biggest concern is they have not left any room for an ambulance to pass through,” Sudesh Goyat, a protester at one of the sites told The Indian Express.
Besides the highways in Delhi, there has also been increased scrutiny on the internet.
Twitter India suspends over 200 accounts
On Feb. 1, micro-blogging site Twitter, which has been aggressively used to attract global attention to the protests, temporarily suspended over 200 Twiter accounts. Most of these accounts were of those associated with the protestors, including Kisan Ekta Morcha, the official IT cell of Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an amalgam of protesting farm unions.
“The order was issued against accounts that were using the hashtag #modiplanningfarmersgenocide that started on Jan. 30,” a government source told Reuters.
Indian Twitter was enraged by the website’s move that was seen as an attempt to muzzle dissent in India. The move drew flak especially in the context of the US, where Twitter had taken a hard stance against Donald Trump last month. On Jan. 11, Twitter had blocked the former US president’s account due to spreading misinformation.
Defending its move, Twitter said that many countries have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content.
“Many countries have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a properly scoped request from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time,” a spokesperson of Twitter told Quartz.
Later in the day, after a massive furore for 12 hours, Twitter restored the suspended accounts.
The way ahead for farm protests in India
Despite the ongoing chaos, the farmers have signalled that they are ready to resume talks with the Modi government to end the deadlock. There have been 11 rounds of failed talks between the government and protesting farmers so far.
Meanwhile, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha is planning a “chakka jam” where it will block national and state highways for three hours in areas near the agitation sites on Feb. 6 to protest against the alleged harassment meted out to by authorities
Today (Feb. 2), concerns over the farmers echoed in parliament. Members of opposition parties moved adjournment notices in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, to suspend the business of the day to debate the three farm laws. Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, however, rejected these notices.