As talks with govt remain inconclusive, farmers at Singhu border determined to continue protest

The protesting farmers are not ignorant, they don’t believe PM Modi when he says that the new farm laws are beneficial and want them to be suspended because their lives, land and future are at stake

As talks with govt remain inconclusive, farmers at Singhu border determined to continue protest

Ashlin Mathew

Jagpreet Singh, a farmer from Punjab, said they have come prepared to protest for six months. He came on November 26 with grains, vegetables and mattresses in a truck with more than two dozen people from his village in Moga district. His truck is one of the thousands of trucks stationed at Singhu border and it has now been converted to into a make-shift room.

Fifty-seven-year-old Singh said as they were crossing Haryana, though the government was brutal, the people were kind. “They gave us more than enough ration to last for more than a month. We have not even touched the ration that we have gotten,” said Singh.

Singh is one of the lakhs of farmers who have arrived in trucks and tractors to the Capital. The farmers came ready to go to Central Delhi, but they were stopped at the various border check posts. At Singhu border, which is on GT Karnal Highway in North Delhi, a 10-kilometre stretch has been cordoned off since November 26.

The multitude of farmers, who are from 32 unions in Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting for two months ever since the three Agriculture laws were passed in September. They want the government to withdraw the three pro-market ordinances, which would not only phase out the Minimum Support Price and the traditional grain market system (mandis or APMCs) but would also break the small and marginal farmers. With the new laws the farmers can only approach the conciliation board, sub-divisional magistrate and appellate authority for complaints, they cannot go to courts. The new laws also take away the state’s authority to regulate agricultural markets.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi insisted, even on Sunday, that the farm Bills were beneficial for the farmers. He said that these farm bills will break the shackles around farmers and give them new opportunities.

Neither Singh nor the thousands of farmers at Singhu border believe the Prime Minister. Ranjodh Singh from Sri Muktsar Sahib underscored that these laws were made to benefit ‘Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani’. Ambani is the largest shareholder of Reliance Industries and is the richest person in Asia, while Adani is the founder of Adani Industries.

“The government wants corporates to take over our lands and drive us to poverty. These laws will only favour corporates as they will never want to pay a fair price. This will only harm us. We have not allowed a single ‘Reliance Fresh‘ showrooms to be opened in Punjab in the last two months. Their fuel pumps have also been shut down. The government needs to listen to us. When we were protesting in Punjab, they should have listened. Now, here there are farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan,” said 30-year-old Ranjodh Singh, who has left his wife behind at home.

Ravinder Singh, a farmer from Murthal in Haryana, joined the protests in solidarity with the other farmers. He said when the Congress government was in power, they gave us several things for free. “Everyone thought the Congress government was corrupt, but the BJP government is the worst. They gave us free electricity and we had to pay only nominal charges to rent generators,” explained Singh.

At every 750-metre interval along the 10-kilometre stretch at Singhu border, there are men assigned cooking duties all through the day. There butter-laden parathas, vegetable curry and buttermilk being made. Another group of elderly men and youngsters crowd around the stage where anti-Modi fiery speeches are given. Away from all of this are men, children and women resting in trucks before they take over duties with mostly Punjabi music playing in the backdrop. Even as these roads are packed with trucks, even more trucks, tractors and jeeps with farmers continue to arrive at Singhu.

At the main stage as the sun turned overhead, a young student leader Sandeep Kaur from Punjab University was warming up the crowds. “I will be here only for a few days as I have classes. My parents are able to pay the fees only because of the farmland we have. They want to take that away too. These laws are anti-kisan. As a student I have to raise my voice. We will raise it until they hear it,” said Sandeep Kaur enthusiastically. She is a final year law student.

Fifteen-year-old Harminder Singh had come with his uncle and cousin brother. His father was at part of the protests at another border location. “Ever since the pandemic began, our classes have been conducted online. I can join classes anywhere. For now, it is important that our farms stay with us and are not taken over by corporates. Modi has to listen to us,” said Harminder Singh with his fists jabbing in the air.

For Patiala-based Harmeet Kaur it is a question of survival. “I am a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife. It is my duty to protest. My husband is home with our three daughters. Once I go back in two days, he will come to join the protests. As one of us will have to be home with the children, we will be alternating until the protests end,” said Kaur, who also works as a lab technician at Rajinder Hospital. Her family cultivates wheat, rice and vegetables.

Kaur, 37, said Modi has been speaking against the commission agents as if they were villains. “There are middle-men in every industry. At least these are commission agents who help us. We borrow money from them before the sowing season and we return the amount after we sell the produce. The person also ensures that our produce gets sold. He is helping us. Instead of listening to us, Modi is saying what he wants. The government that we voted to power is now looking to eat us up,” said an irate Kaur.

She wanted to know why Modi would not even talk to the farmers. “We will not eat him,” quipped Kaur, who is not affiliated with any of the farmers unions.

Jitender Chhina, the state press secretary of Krantikari Kisan Union, had already predicted that the talks between the farmers and the government would fail. The agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railways and Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash had called the heads of the 32 unions for a meeting to discuss the new laws at Vigyan Bhawan on December 1. Initially, the meeting was scheduled for December 3.

“The government is not interested in resolving the issue. Did you head what Modi said in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ speech on Sunday. A government that is interested in solving the issue would not have praised the private players and patted their own back about the laws. If they were really interested, they would have suspended the laws and then called us for talks. They are attempting to break our unity by inviting only the kisan unions from Punjab. All the farmers’ unions have to be invited. Several groups have already boycotted the meeting,” said Chhina.

At the meeting, the government maintained that the new laws would be beneficial for the farmers. They suggested the setting up of a five-member committee to look into issues raised by farmers, but the farmers’ unions rejected it.

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Published: 01 Dec 2020, 10:12 PM