Hundreds of thousands of protesting farmers on tractors were fighting their way into the Indian capital New Delhi on Tuesday.
Police blocked the main roads into the city with steel barricades flanked by water cannons, riot vans and masses of reinforcements.
But the farmers tore these aside like toys, with the media complaining that they were using their tractors “like tanks against the police”.
Having previously agreed with police that they would not enter the centre of Delhi, the farmers began storming the famous Red Fort in the heart of the old city.
The cops tried in vain to stop the farmers’ advance. They fired round after round of tear gas and charged at the protesters with their heavy “lathi” batons.
Yet the sheer number and militancy of the farmers saw the police retreat again and again. Politicians who had hoped today’s TV live feeds would be filled with bloodied protesters instead saw cops lying in the roads injured.
The protests came on Republic Day, a day to mark the founding of modern India. It usually features an endless parade of the military’s latest hardware, combined with some sabre-rattling against Pakistan, and more recently China.
But today is the farmers’ day—and it will be known as a day of defiance.
The hard right government of Narendra Modi rushed through a series of laws that aimed to “liberalise” the agricultural sector last year.
Every farmer knows that this will hand power to multinational agri-businesses and that the poorest will lose what little land they have.
Ministers calculated that farmers were capable of only limited resistance, and that they could do what they liked with their huge parliamentary majority.
Unfortunately for them, the farmers see the battle as one of life and death.
For more than two months they have been camped outside the capital in their thousands. But Tuesday’s protesters have turned the tables.
And the gesture could not be more apt. It was here in 1857 that forces against the British rallied during the great Indian Mutiny.
Elsewhere in India, farmers descended on many other cities including Mumbai. Even tribal farmers long excluded from India’s civil society joined the marches.
Janabai Laxman Mengar came from Akola, some 300 miles from Mumbai.
She packed bed sheets, chapattis and a change of clothes for her husband and herself.
“We had to come, missing the protest was not an option,” she said. “We brought food, and there are water tankers here. We slept here on the Maidan [protest site] last night.”
Looking at the hundreds of thousands that had joined her she added, “This struggle is nothing as compared to the fight ahead of us.”