A silent yet spirited night at Singhu border

Winters won't wear us down, say protesting farmers

Politics

January 7, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

A silent yet spirited night at Singhu border

Farmers spend their evenings huddled around bonfires, discussing politics, prime minister and purpose of the protest (MIG photos)

For the past six weeks, northern India has been in grip of severe cold wave. However, unmindful of the blistering cold, tens of thousands of farmers have continued to stay in the open at Singhu border as well as other borders of Delhi and are determined to stay put until farm laws are repealed.

It’s around 10:30 pm. The mercury has already dropped below 2°C and a fairly dense fog has descended, forecasting yet another chilly night at Singhu border, on northern fringe of Delhi that has become home to over 100,000 farmers, which remains enveloped in total darkness and silence pervades all around. It is a dramatic change from the usual ambience of daytime with loud proclamations and speeches, cheering and a plethora of activities such as preparation and serving of food and tea for hundreds of thousands in dozens of makeshift kitchens or people generally moving about. Now, it is the volunteers and the occasional bystander that are eating their dinner as volunteers have finally taken out some time to feed themselves, after having fed thousands earlier in the day.

Elsewhere, volunteers are busy cleaning up the area, sweeping and mopping or rolling up carpets in order to prepare for a new day. The volunteers say that it is their responsibility to see that everything is organised before the next day starts.

To keep the protestors as well as the people who stay along the Singhu border area safe, groups of volunteers walk about using fumigators to clear the area of mosquitoes.

Even though the day’s hustle and bustle is missing and most of the aged farmers are already tucked in their temporary beds on the roads or in back of tractor trollies, still small groups of farmers can be seen huddled around bonfires, discussing politics, prime minister and purpose of the protest.

At one bonfire, a group of young volunteers laugh and crack jokes about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while barely 100 m away, at another bonfire with half a dozen people warming themselves, a farmer in his mid-40’s explains why the government has been favouring Ambani and Adani at the cost of the farmers. As the discussion gets longer, his tone gets louder and soon few young men join in.

The farmers and their supporters say that but for the critical struggle against the farm laws, they would not be here out in the open on the roads, hundreds of km away from their homes.

“Nobody anywhere wants to sit like this during winters. But the three black laws that the government has passed today, we all humbly request the government to repeal it. The government should just accept its mistake that it has made. Then only the people can go back to the comfort of their homes, otherwise they will continue to sit in the cold weather,” Mohan Singh, a Delhi-based businessman and a supporter of the protest tells Media India Group.

Despite the cold and the discomforts of staying on the roads for nearly six weeks that saw close to 30 farmers dying, mainly due to cold, the farmers say they will wait patiently and not take any hasty steps. “We will continue to sit and protest here with patience because this is what our Gurus have taught us for long. It is almost as if our Gurus are supervising the protest. So, we will not make any violent move and continue to stage the protest. But if the government tries to use muscle, they must remember that we are not wearing any bangles,” says a farmer.

“Either the three bills have to be repealed or else they should resign and sit at home. We can run the country,” says another farmer.

An alert eye

As tens of thousands of farmers have been on the streets for well over six weeks now, security is one of the most important concerns of the protest leaders. They say since the farmers have been living in the open, one of the biggest concerns is the safety of their belongings and also prevention of more serious crimes. To check these, several teams of security volunteers patrol the site day and night, equipped with wireless sets, these teams act in close coordination with each other as well as with the main office of the protest site, that has been set up in the first tractor that reached Singhu border on November 27.

The security teams have also been told to keep an eye out for any outsiders, including the media, who are gently escorted out of the protest area during the night. The volunteers also watch out for any unseemly activities that may be done by any outsider to malign the peaceful protest that has earned the reputation of being the most well-organised and peaceful protest in the world with such a large gathering.

Like the farmers, the security personnel are also unaware of how long they have to be at the border (MIG photos)

Unending preparations

Meanwhile, inside the makeshift protest headquarters, discussions are being held on the plans for the days ahead in terms of management and organisation of the protest site where the population has now ballooned into something comparable to a small city. Leading the discussions is Gurdeep Singh, a farmer from Jalandhar in Punjab, who has become an icon of the protest since he drove his tractor over numerous barriers posed by the police in Haryana and on Delhi border.

A small truck has just reached the site office and a couple of workers quickly offload a batch of 50 patio heaters that Mohan Singh has offered to the protestors, in view of the severe cold that has gripped Delhi for the past several weeks. The patio heaters are stored in a storage area created behind the office.

Another tractor has reached the site with fresh food and vegetables to be used for the next day’s community kitchen. The farmers are keeping to their word of staying for as long as it may be necessary before the government accedes to their demands.

As the farmers went about their night activities, on the other side of the barricades sat dozens of police and security personnel, pulled in from across the country, sitting by their own small bonfires, trying to beat the cold. The situation for both seems very similar. Like the farmers, the security personnel are also unaware of how long they have to be at the border. They say they would be there for as long as the government tells them to or as long as the protestors remain on site.

As the protests continue more and more farmers can be seen on NH44 who are on the way to join the protest. Hundreds of tractors are lined up and even the heavy rains and chilly weather in Delhi cannot dim their spirits. In the early morning hours of Wednesday few farmers can be seen standing just beside their tractors at a restaurant, about 50 km north of Singhu border. The farmers are from Fatehgarh Saheb in Punjab and will join the protest. Despite the length of the protest and little signs of the government conceding their demands, the morale of the newcomers is very high. “We will return when we win this battle,” says one, while the others cheer him loudly. The statement rings true as dozens of tractors on the same highway head to Delhi at the same time.

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