Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Friday in an address to the nation that he will be repealing three controversial farm laws. Farmers in the northern part of the country have been protesting against the laws for over a year.
The announcement came on the day of Guru Nanak Jayanti, a celebration of the birthday of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. Modi maintained that the farming laws were brought in with good intentions by the government, but they failed to convey this to the farmers. “Maybe something was lacking in our tapasya (penance), which is why we could not convince some farmers about the laws,” he said.
The speech was given right before Modi left for a three-day visit to Uttar Pradesh. The states of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are set to hold assembly elections early next year. Farmers and farmer unions, predominantly from the northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh have been protesting at the borders that they share with capital city Delhi for a year. Farmers’ union leader Rakesh Tikait welcomed the decision on Twitter, thanked the farmers for their efforts and remembered those who lost their lives, saying their “hard work has paid off.”
The farmers had begun a march to Delhi against the protests last year, but were stopped by security forces. They had camped at the Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur borders of Delhi on two sides, even during the harsh winter months. Volunteers had stepped in to provide food, water, medical services, and even foot massages at the protest camps. The protests had gained a lot of attention on the international stage as well, with activist Greta Thunberg and pop singer Rihanna also tweeting about it. The intensity of the largely peaceful protests reduced over the months.
A Republic Day rally on January 26 this year turned violent, with one farmer being killed, and dozens of police being injured. During a protest in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, a union minister’s son allegedly ran over protesting farmers, killing at least eight. He has been detained on murder charges. Farmers’ representatives told The Times of India that more than 600 activists and protesters had died during the protests.