Vendors at Singhu border market support farmers despite disruptions

The once flourishing markets of Singhu Border turn dismal

Politics

December 30, 2020

/ By / New Delhi



For well over a month now, life at Singhu border has been disrupted as residents of the area find themselves surrounded by thousands of protesting farmers and policemen. Many vendors at the local market are amongst the worst hit as their traditional customers avoid the market due to the protest, some, however, have found new customers in the protesting farmers and the policemen. But despite the disruption, support for the protest remains strong here.

It’s almost 11 pm and small groups of men, protesting farmers and policing cops alike, gather around the few food stalls that remain open at this late hour in an area that resembles a no-man’s land. The iconic egg stalls jostle with the Chinese and Mughlai food stalls. With the onset of a harsh winter, the dipping mercury and the dense layers of fog is making it difficult for the vendors to continue with their business. However, the vendors say that to sustain themselves in these troubling times, they have to sell for longer duration to get business like earlier. But more than the winter, it is the ongoing farmers’ protest that has made the life difficult for most of the vendors in this once-throbbing market that marks the border between Delhi and Haryana.

It has been over a month since the farmers began protesting here. On a stretch of nearly 30 km, the entire highway and the adjoining service lanes as well as empty plots of land have been transformed into a mini city, with all the facilities that people need in today’s world, except brick and mortar homes. Tractor trolleys have been converted into temporary accommodations and dozens of farmers sit around bonfires discussing the political and social issues. Practically every day, new supplies in form of blankets, clothes, tents, water heaters and room heaters arrive here to help the farmers stay. There are also sites for prayers, for people of all faiths and almost every 50 m on the highway there is a community kitchen serving nonstop meals as well as tea, coffee and milk.

One look at the protest site is enough to know that the farmers are well prepared, better than any other protest seen in many decades. However, it has disrupted life at Singhu border and neighbouring areas due to blocked roads. The once flourishing markets here now wait endlessly for their regular customers. Shopkeepers say that since people get their meals for free at langars or community kitchens, they do not come to their stalls to buy food.

Rinku, a Chinese food stall owner, who is in his mid-30’s, He says that because of the protests he is losing a lot of business. “There is no business now. Before the protests it was fine. Earlier when people could move it was good for business. Now after the farmers have gathered here and are not moving, the business is not that good. Now our permanent customers only come. Earlier I used to make INR 2000-3000 daily. Now I hardly make INR 500-700,” Rinku tells Media India Group.

Despite the hardships, the vendors unanimously support the farmers and their cause (MIG photos)

Rinku has been living at Singhu border since he was eight years old and says when the protests began, he preferred to wait and let the area clear up since he feared violence. “After the protests started on November 25, I sat at my house for 24 days. During that period, I didn’t do any business. Yesterday I set up my stall again and now I can do some business and I feel nice after coming here. But if the protest ends then it will be even better for us,” he says.

Many other shopkeepers here say their business has been badly disrupted due to the protests and the fear of trouble between the farmers and police has kept the locals away from the markets. Shankarlal, a fruit seller says that, “We have been putting our stalls here since a long time. Before the protests the business was really good. We used to make INR 8000-10,000 daily. But since the protests have started, it is difficult to make sale of INR 1500-2000. That is because the protestors are carrying their own rations. They are not only sustaining themselves but they are also feeding others. That is why we are getting no business. We can only request the Prime Minister to listen to what the farmers have to say as soon as possible, so that our business gets to normal. If this continues for long, then we will become beggars soon.”

Tiwari, a bag seller says, “Earlier during rush hours, I used to sell 10-15 bags and I used to make INR 400-500 in a day. Now I only earn INR 300-350. Even the costly items, I have to sell at cheap rates.”

Azad, who is a street food vendor, says that before the farmers started protesting at the borders, there were around 250 vendors here. But he says now there are a very few left. “If the farmer’s issue is resolved, then everything will get back to normal. Earlier we used to earn INR 2000-3000 in a day. Now we are making INR 1000-2000,” he adds.

However, there are a few for whom the business has picked up dramatically, mainly due to the bitter cold. Mohammed Qurban, from Delhi, says he has been selling winter garments and blankets for just about a week. He says that his business is increasing as the mercury is falling at the borders. “It’s been a week since we have started working here. And since the protests have started the business is flourishing. As the temperature is dipping with every passing day, people also need blankets or jackets. So our business is going well,” says Qurban.

Despite the hardships, the shopkeepers unanimously support the farmers and their cause and ask the government to accept the farmers’ demands. Rinku says that the farmers are doing the right thing by protesting for their rights. “What Modi is doing is wrong. We support the farmers. If the farmers are saying that the government should repeal the three farm laws, then they should do it. Then we will also not suffer and the people will be happy as well,” says Rinku.

Similarly, Qurban adds, “People are also very nice here. All the Sardars who have come here are very nice. They talk to us nicely. And we also support them.”

The sentiments of people at Singhu border are likely to ring true across India as farming is close to the heart of most of the people not just here, but across India as well over two-thirds of Indian population lives directly on farming. Most are happy to take a temporary hit to their businesses due to the protest rather than risk losing the only source of livelihood that they have known for generations.

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