Over 1,000 paramilitary troops have been sent to the state in a bid to quell the unrest, which has seen buses torched and buildings set ablaze.
The outbreak of discontent began over a week ago in the district of Mandsaur, as farmers — frustrated with the state’s current agricultural policies — took to the streets to demand higher crop prices and a waiver on existing bank loans.
The drought-ridden state is one of several in India to have suffered from back-to-back crop failures in recent years.
Curfew, suspended internet
The intensity and size of the protests appeared to have caught Indian authorities off guard.
A round-the-clock curfew has since been enforced in Mandsaur. Internet services have also been suspended in multiple districts, according to police reports.
Protest leaders, however, have denied accusations of violence. “The farmers did not come to the protest with any petrol or anything that can be used to start a fire,” said Sunil Gaur, a spokesperson for the National Farmers Labor Union, one of the groups behind the protest.
“I appeal to my fellow brothers to maintain peace. I am deeply pained by the turn of events today. I stand by families in this hour of grief.”
‘A people’s movement’
Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is considered part of India’s farming heartland, owing to its large agricultural output.
Farmers in the state have long demanded a government-backed minimum fixed price for their produce to help protect against fluctuations in crop prices.
Protestors felt betrayed by the government’s failure to follow-up on their pledge, said Gaur. “The demands we have are not for the state government, it is for the central government,” he added. “Now this movement will go from Madhya Pradesh and spread across the whole country, this will become a people’s movement.”
Almost 70% of India’s population of 1.3 billion live in rural areas, according to India’s census, but agriculture accounts for just 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
CNN’s Karma Dolma Gurung contributed to this report.