Kite-flying farmers take on police drones in India protests

Kites carried string coated in powdered glass to entangle drones’ rotors as farmers seek better prices, loan waivers and pensions

A cat-and-mouse confrontation is under way in north India between police and protesting farmers who are demanding higher prices for their crops from the federal government.

The farmers from the states of Punjab and Haryana, many of whom are military and paramilitary veterans, have deployed scores of kites to counter police drones employed to drop tear gas canisters on to demonstrators.

Protesters at Shambhu, 230km north of New Delhi in Haryana, where police on Tuesday clashed with thousands of farmers while trying to prevent them from reaching the capital to press their demands, said each kite carried rolls of extra strong Chinese-origin string, coated with powdered glass.

Once airborne, the string entangled the drones’ rotors, causing many of them to fall to the ground, and resulted in the local authorities initiating preventive action against the kite-flyers. Farmers also targeted the drones with sling shots and flare guns.


Local officials said the farmers also assembled a wall of heavy fibre bags soaked in water on tractors and trolleys to neutralise the effects of tear gas, while large blowers mounted on assorted farm vehicles dispersed the acrid fumes.

“Many of our protesters are retired servicemen and trained to deal with such obstacles,” said Sarvan Singh Pandher, who heads one of 200-odd farm unions participating in the protest. “We are seeking an acknowledgment of our demands or permission to proceed to Delhi, both of which are our democratic right,” he added.

The police also resorted to innovative tactics to contain the demonstrators.

As well as dropping tear-gas canisters via drones and erecting large concrete-block walls and tall concertina barbed wire fencing on the Delhi highway, they employed devices which emitted deafeningly high-pitched sounds to disorient protesters.

They had also coated the road with lubricants to deter vehicles and horses.

Police dug large pits at regular intervals on side roads which bypassed the highway to the capital and, in stretches, planted sharp spikes to prevent all vehicular movement.

The protest, which comes two years after a year-long sit-in by farmers on Delhi’s borders that ended in November 2021, is aimed at securing a guaranteed minimum support price for 23 crops, loan waivers and pensions among other concessions.

The farmers claimed that prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led government acceded to their demands in 2021, but failed to implement any of them.

They said this had forced them to renew their agitation, ahead of the upcoming general elections, in which farmers are an influential voting bloc.

Meanwhile, talks between government ministers and farm union leaders to end the impasse are continuing, with the next round scheduled for Sunday.

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Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi