India protests: Farmers armed with sticks and spears clash with police in Delhi

·3-min read

A young man on a horse charges into a wall of policemen securing the outer ring road of India's capital, Delhi.

This was the first sign of a confrontation between the protesting farmers and security forces at the Singhu border.

The police fired tear gas at the marching protesters and even charged with batons, but it was no deterrent for thousands of farmers who began their march into the city - many of them armed with sticks, spears and swords.

Senior police officers tried to boost the morale of their men, but it wasn't going to be. The other side was all charged up, and for the first time in this 60-day protest, there was violence on the streets.

Delhi Police has confirmed that 41 of their officers have been injured, and we witnessed one policeman bleeding from his forehead.

Hundreds of security personnel watched from the sidelines, retreated, or fled into the fields.

Farmers have been protesting against three new agricultural laws enacted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September last year.

Critics say the laws, which deregulate crop pricing, will reduce farmers' earnings by dismantling the system that guarantees them an income - leaving them vulnerable to large private companies.

The government argues the laws will abolish middlemen and improve farmers' incomes as they will have a wider market to sell to.

The protesting farmers were blocked from entering the national capital - but after much negotiation, they were permitted to conduct a "tractor rally" along a designated and predetermined route.

Sardar Singh, a farmer from Jalandhar, told Sky News: "I'm not afraid of their bombs and guns, they can shoot me in the chest, we are standing right here and will never go back."

Dilbagh Singh, another farmer from Amritsar, has been protesting since last year. He said: "The laws have to go, we are fighting for the people of this country. We have decided we will either win or die here."

In an earlier televised address, Mr Modi said the government's intentions were "as holy as the water of River Ganga" - and claimed farmers were "being misled on these historic agriculture reform laws by the same people who for decades have misled them".

He added: "We cannot build the next century with the laws of the previous century."

But the farmers are in no mood to relent - even in this period of a raging pandemic.

All major opposition political parties have come out in support of the strike.

Protesting farmers, mainly from the states of Punjab and Haryana, have said they will only return home when the laws are abolished. Many rounds of talks between the government and farming leaders have resulted in a deadlock.

"We are fighting for our existence, if these laws will come our generation will be totally finished. We are peaceful but the government is attacking us with tear gas and batons," farmer Rajbir Singh Dhillion told Sky News.

Defying orders, thousands of marchers and tractors headed for central Delhi and then moved towards the Red Fort.

Hundreds entered the secure fort and unfurled their flag - at the very place where the prime minister makes his yearly speech on Independence Day.

Tuesday marked a symbolic moment in their resistance.

Violence has been reported from other parts of the capital where the farmers were confronted by security.

It came as India celebrated its 72nd Republic Day, an important date where the nation parades its strength with marching military contingents, military hardware and the latest armoury.

Mr Modi and his entire government attended the parade on Tuesday morning.

Shortly after, and just a few miles away, the scenes of defiance illustrated one of the biggest challenges for his government in recent times.