Protesting farmers make Singhu Border their home away from home

Through winter, spring & summer, farmers prepared for very long haul

Politics

May 13, 2021

/ By Varsha Singh / New Delhi

It will soon be six months that thousands of farmers have been gathered at Delhi’s borders to protest against the controversial farm laws pushed through the Parliament last year. A lot has changed at the Singhu Border on northern fringes of Delhi, one of the protest sites, as winters gave way to spring and then summer. But one thing that has not changed is the farmers’ determination to keep protesting until their demands have been met.

“There is a memorable event from our village where a liquor shop had opened in 1987. So our mothers and grandmothers got together and protested against the liquor shop. That protest went on for one year and for what? Just for a liquor shop. After a year, the women won the battle and finally that liquor shop was shut. But the main point is that, it became such a big issue. This teaches us that if protests are led in a peaceful way, no matter how long they are, they will take us to victory,” says Baljeet Kaur, from Kurukshetra in Haryana, who has been visiting Singhu Border whenever she gets an opportunity to express support for the protest.

Like Kaur, there are many others who visit Singhu Border every now and then to extend support to the farmers and be a part of what they call a ‘historic battle’.

A lot has changed at the protest site on the northern edge of Delhi where farmers protesting against the controversial farm laws, that were rammed through the Parliament by the Narendra Modi government without any discussion in last year, have been gathered since November 2020. Warm clothes and heaters have made way for coolers and mosquito nets as thousands of farmers staying put at protest site have made a home away from home.

Most farmers have also built their own sewage systems to ensure that dirty water, from bathing, washing clothes and cooking utensils, is disposed off safely and does not gather, creating a health hazard for themselves and other residents of the area. Most of the trolleys have gone back to their villages and now temporary shelters have cropped up, along with a handful of traditional mud huts for the farmers to sleep in. The area has been beautified, with saplings of trees as well as potted plants lining the shelters.

To complete the recreation of the rustic environment back home, farmers have left adequate space between shelters and cooking area where ‘charpoys’ or traditional cots have been laid out for farmers to gather each evening and share news and plan their daily activities. Sitting in one such group, 75-year-old Joginder Singh from Ambala in Haryana, says that he and other protestors will stay on for as long as needed, since the government is not interested in a dialogue. He warns Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he will have people’s response to his silence in 2024 elections.

“Let Modi not talk. The chair is ours and not his. He will have to leave the chair. We gave him that position but he has not given us anything. He only gave us the three black laws. If he doesn’t repeal the three farm laws, then in 2024 elections we will snatch the chair from him. We will stay here till then. If he wants to shoot us then let him do that,” says Singh who is also fondly known as Comrade at Singhu Border.

Karam Singh Mathara from Kurukshetra agrees with the Comrade and says that Modi is the first Prime Minister in Indian history who doesn’t talk to the people on their problems. “The thing is that the Prime Minister is not ready to talk. He is the first Prime Minister who since six months of ongoing farmers’ protest is not ready to talk. So we can say that in a democracy there is nothing that we can call as government. Had there been any government and had he been our Prime Minister then he should have spoken to us. But he has created such a system within the country that it seems some kind of anarchy and there is no one left to talk,” he says.

Children at the forefront

Despite several rumours that there are very few people left at the protest sites, Singhu Border remains crowded with farmers who refuse to leave till the government does not repeal the three farm laws. People from villages take turns to come and participate in the protest in view of the harvesting season. However, it is not just the elder who take turns to join the protest, even the children come forward to represent their families. Indeed, children have been an integral part of the protest ever since it began and now they come to Singhu Border to replace the elder members of their family at the protest site. Despite the age difference, the children are as committed to the cause as their parents.

Lapri Singh (15) from Fatehgarh Sahib is one such kid who is here at Singhu border doing community service in place of his father Hardev Singh. “I have been here since one month and I will not leave till the three farm laws are repealed. Either we win or we die. We do sewa (service) here two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening,” he says.

Similarly, Babinder Singh who is 12-year-old and is from Dadu Majra in Chandigarh says that he is here to help everyone in the protest by doing community service.

Women and their struggles

Keeping the prolonged protest on is a challenge not just for the men, but even more so for the several women, many of them grandmothers in their 70s and 80s. They say that it has been very difficult for them to manage being at the protest, but that their determination has not wilted under the hot summer sun.

“We are a group of 15 old women that left our village last year, since then we have been here. I am more than 70 years old and so are others with me and we cook food here. We have been facing so many problems that what do I tell you. The governments have created so many problems for us. Are elder persons, 70-80 year-old, meant to be cooking food? We have not been hired to sit here, if you have been hearing this. We are very uneasy here in this heat with so many mosquitoes, there is not even a fan or a cooler anywhere. Instead of relaxing at home, we have been sitting here on the roads for protesting,” says Sheela a 70-year-old woman from Sangrur in Punjab.

Coping with Covid-19

As the entire country is facing a crisis due to Covid-19, the farmers at Singhu border that they are taking precautionary measures to ensure everyone’s safety. Over the past several months, the farmers have been accused of creating a risk of spread of the coronavirus pandemic by continuing the protest. The farmers retort that they realise the dangers of coronavirus, but ending the protest without having their demands met would be an even bigger danger. Jatinder Pal Singh, a farmer from Mohali in Punjab, says that they will not move as they are ready to die to Covid-19 rather than seeing their coming generations die due to the farm bills.

“We are protesting here so they tell us to go back to our villages in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s assume that we will be killed by coronavirus, but if but if we go back from here without reversal of farm laws, our future generations will be killed. Since we know that our future generations are going to die because of these three farm laws, so it’s better that we die due to Covid-19. But at least we will put up a fight. Here we are taking full precautions, we are eating healthy food as well. We are not at all saying that there is no Covid-19. However, we are sitting here, it is a democratic country and it is our right to protest since we don’t want the laws. So what they should do is come and talk to us and find a solution to our demands. We will leave from here the same day. But our Prime Minister, what kind of Prime Minister is he, that in a population of 1.36 billion, he can only see 4-5 families like Ambani and Adani,” says Singh.

There are several old farmers at the protest site. They say that they are taking care of themselves as they don’t expect anything from the government. They say that they know that government will not arrange vaccination or even basic medical care for them.

“What vaccination are you talking about? What will the Prime Minister do for us? He could not even make hospitals in the past one year. He has been looting the country. He is unable to provide hospital beds for the youngsters, what will he do for old men like us? He can only shoot us, so let him do that,” says Joginder Singh.

Now that the harvesting season is over, hundreds of farmers, liberated from farming duties for some time, have already arrived at Singhu Border and other protest sites. Many more are on the way. Sooner than later, the weight of the protests and the patience of the protestors will show its impact on a government that has remained a mute spectator to what’s been billed as one of the largest mass movements in the recent years.

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