Ground report: It’s a city of caravans at the Singhu border

Thousands of farmers and their families are having a rough time at the protest site, but they say there’s no question of going back home until the govt repeals the three farm laws

Ground report: It’s a city of caravans at the Singhu border

Ashlin Mathew

“What else were we supposed to do? The earth is our mother. If we don’t fight for it, we will have nothing else left. Several of us came from Pakistan. At that time, we lost land and we were given land in compensation. Now, these farm laws threaten our very existence. We have seen what has happened to farmers in Bihar. They come to work in our fields,” says Harmandeep Singh from Tarn Tarn district in Punjab. He has been at Singhu border since November 28.

Thousands like Harmandeep have journeyed from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in their tractors, trucks and trailers to Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders. At Ghazipur, they are mostly confined under and along a flyover and at Tikri border, the trucks and tractors are parked along the metro line. They have had to remain on one stretch of the road due to buildings on either sides of the road.

It’s at Singhu border that the protestors are able to breathe. A bit. On the border between Delhi and Haryana, without any construction holing them in, the protestors have been able to build small and large make-shift tents and convert trucks into miniature rooms, while their trailers hold the supplies for as long as they need to sustain themselves. There are open-air kitchens, langars, food distribution groups, small addas, hookah groups and medical camps.

To many visiting Singhu for a day, it looks like a lot of fun. There are speeches all through the day and as you amble along, you can stop for chai, kheer, shardai, or a sumptuous lunch. You can also get blood tests done.

“That is all an outsider sees. We don’t know when we can go back as the government is in no mood to listen. They only want people to survive and not thrive. We have to consider this as our home now as we don’t see ourselves going back unless the three farm acts are withdrawn. If you think of this as an extension of our homes and our villages, nothing seems out of place. There will be music and paath (religious readings) in the evenings,” said Sukhvinder Singh from Moga district.

There are deaths too. According to reports, at least 14 people have died in two weeks. “There is at least one death every day. I may not know all of them, but we hear of them before the end of the day. Several people have died due to the cold, a few due to accidents and yet this government is not concerned. If the farmers are saying that these laws are not good for the country, shouldn’t they be listening to us?” asked Prabjyot Kaur, a student who has been participating in the protest. Her family grows paddy and this year they got only Rs 600 per quintal when last year they had got Rs 1,800 per quintal.

“Paddy is grown because there is the assurance of Minimum Support Price (MSP). The government should introduce MSP for other produce as well. Several farmers will diversify. We understand the toll paddy takes, but we want a reasonable price for our produce. Now, with these laws they intend to break our back,” underscored Prabjyot, who had come to do ‘sewa’ at Singhu border. She is studying for B.Sc Nursing and has taken leave to bring medicines for the protestors.

“There are several medical camps at the beginning of the border, but towards the end, there are very few. Many people have come with their horses and several of them are injured. I’m bringing medicines and bandages for them too. The protest can only sustain itself only if all of us remain healthy. During the pandemic, we need to be careful. Here, it’s not easy to wear masks, so building one’s immunity is all we can do,” said Prabjyot.

The protest is taking its toll on women too but they are just as determined to remain at Singhu border until the farm acts are withdrawn. “When we come out to protest, leaving our homes, it is much more difficult. Most people do not realise that. It’s just like how our lives are. We have to work harder at home and here too. Here we do not even have proper facilities to take a shower or go to the toilet. We just manage,” said Manpreet Kaur, who has left behind two children with her mother at Ludhiana.

For her it’s a question of providing a reasonable life for her children. If these laws are not repealed, the situation in Punjab will become like that of Bihar, she says. “We do not want that to happen,” asserts Manpreet.

The farmers are worried that the three farm laws will alter their socio-economic condition and that has driven them to the borders of the Capital in winter. “One of the laws encourage contract farming. Corporates will break off contracts and then we will be at a loss. With the new law, we can’t even go to courts. Why else do you think we are here spending our money and protesting? Everyone is contributing either in cash or goods. We have to sustain it until they withdraw the laws. We are willing to suffer these short-term losses for our long-term benefit. The government does not care about our future, so we have dig in and be here,” said 35-year-old Kanwalpreet Brar, who was peeling carrots. He had never done such chores back home in Bathinda. Beside him was 65-year-old Amarjot Singh stirring a pot of cauliflower curry. There was wood piled up nearby and rice sacks in front of them.

“The supplies keep coming. We are grateful to all those who are sending us material. For a few days now, grains and vegetables have been coming from Haryana. In Punjab, collection drives are being organised. The local gurudwaras are also collecting supplies and sending them to us. We have to sustain this until the government repeals the law. We have no choice,” contended Amarjot.

The sit-in at the borders have drawn parallels with the anti-CAA protests of December 2019, when thousands of people had spontaneously begun protesting across the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. Here too there are anti-Modi speeches, supportive crowds and a growing number of volunteers.

The difference is in the scale of protests and the body language of the policemen posted near these protest sites. While at Shaheen Bagh, the policemen had an air of arrogance and rudeness, here they are much more subdued. Those in uniform are politer and remain in groups at the entrance.

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