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By 9.30pm, mattresses had been laid out at the Singhu border between Delhi and Haryana. Food had been served and most of the farmers marching on the capital were resting for the night. A tired BSF man, 45, stood behind a police barricade. “The police are here to take care of the people and we are here to take care of the police,” he said jokingly.
“Is it possible to feel patriotic every day on duty?” we asked him.
“Yes, of course,” he said, adding after a pause, “But not on a day like this. This is the first time in my life I feel no patriotism while doing my duty. The people who are agitating today, the farmers who are pained, are like my mother and father. I myself am a farmer’s son and it is what I too will do after retiring. So how can I feel any patriotism today?”
For nearly three kilometres along the Singhu border, a mega convoy of tractors, trucks and buses choked the highway. In the morning, as the protesting farmers had arrived at the border, they had been met with teargas, sound bombs, water cannons by the Haryana police. Across the state line, the Delhi police had asked the Arvind Kejriwal government for permission to turn nine stadiums into temporary jails for the arriving farmers. This was , and the police announced that the farmers could enter the city and . Thus had the day come to a dramatic end.
It seemed the central government, which controls the Delhi police, couldn’t decide what to do with the farmers who had relentlessly made their way to Delhi, closing in on the city's borders.
Who are these protesting farmers, though? And what is driving them?
Newslaundry spoke with some of the farmers as well as leaders of farmer groups to get a sense of their movement.
‘It isn’t about leadership’
On the ground, it’s evident that while leaders from various Kisan Sabhas are involved with the march, the farmers don’t have one single leader or face at their forefront.
Ramadeep Mann is a farmer from Bhatinda, Punjab, who helps coordinate among various farmer organisations mobilising the protesters. Ramadeep doesn’t belong to any farmer group, but self-identifies as a farmer activist.
This movement can’t be identified by its leaders, he said, and that’s the point. “Usually, when issues come up, it’s cadres of the farmer organizations who protest. But this time, even the most common farmer has stood up. Today, surprisingly, even a lay farmer has a deep understanding of policy,” he said.
Jai Karan, 60, is the district secretary of the All India Krishak Khet Majdoor Sangathan, which is politically aligned with the leftist party Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist). “I have spent my life fighting injustice but this time I am not fighting injustice, I am fighting betrayal,” he said.
The Modi government has with the farmers on December 3, but Jai Karan said “there’s nothing left to talk”. They must simply revoke the “black laws”, he added, meaning the three new farm laws brought by the Modi government earlier this year against which the farmers are protesting.
We asked several farmers about the leadership of the movement and we were met with almost the same response every time: “Behind one farmer is another farmer.”
Avik Saha, the national convener of the Jai Kisan Andholan, said the “Chalo Dilli” march was mobilised by around 500 organisations. He explained that farmers in India are associated largely with either the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, of which he is the general secretary, or the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, both umbrella organisations which between them represent around 350 farmer groups.
“However, we see over 500 organisations on the ground in this movement,” he said. “This means that there are 150 organisations that aren’t on any platform but function independently and have large numbers.”
And this is the first time all farmer groups have put aside their differences and united for one cause, said Ramadeep.
Asked if they belonged to a particular farmer organisation, several protesting farmers responded that they were associated with the Bharatiya Kisan Union. Saha, though, explained that Bharatiya Kisan Union is a generic name used by small, localised farmer groups. There are over 40 such groups and they tend to distinguish from each other by adding a suffix, usually the name of their leader.
“For example, there is the Bharatiya Kisan Union Ugrahan which is independent and has a very large contingent, but sometimes takes positions which are different from other organisations. Nevertheless, in this march we are all together,” Saha said.
To ensure the movement is coordinated well, the Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee and the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, along with two other larger farmer groups, BKU Rajewal and BKU Chandauni, have formed the Samyukth Kisan Morcha.
“This is not a coming together but coordination for the purpose of this protest only,” Saha maintained. “There are differences but we celebrate it, rather than lament. One nation, many farmers’ organisations, not one leader.”
Women at the protest
At the Singhu border, it isn’t just men who are protesting. Jasbeer Kaur, 38, from Tarn Taran city, Punjab, is a district head of the Janwadi Istri Sabha, or Populist Women’s Conference, the women’s front of the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India.
Kaur sat in a truck with three other women, attending calls and coordinating with other women. Even though they’re not all from the same village, for the last three days, the three women have been living in the same truck. “It’s not just us. Almost 15-16 of us sleep inside one truck at night so now we are living in one home,” she said.
Their days have fallen into an organic routine, the women said. While the men go out protesting along the frontline they “freshen up, make preparations for food and clean up the trucks”.
Among them is Brinda Kaur, 60, who left behind her husband and daughter in her village in Amritsar and set out for the protest with her two sons. “We’re in this for the long haul. We are all carrying rice, atta and dried vegetables. We know this government won’t give in easily so we are prepared to stay for as long as it takes,” she said.
Asked if she worried about her safety, Brinda said, “Fear is not a word in our dictionary. Today I’m sitting here but yesterday I too was protesting with the men and breaking the barricades.”
What lies ahead?
The goal of the “Chalo Dilli” was to enter the national capital in large numbers. By Friday evening, the Modi government had agreed to open the Sant Nirankar Ground for the farmers to stage protests. The Singhu border remained sealed, however.
By late evening, 40-50 people had gathered at the Nirankar Ground, most of them relatives of the marching farmers who reside in Delhi. Personnel of the Delhi police kept vigil and workers of the Aam Aadmi Party served food.
At the Singhu border, meanwhile, most of the farmers we spoke with weren’t moved by this “peace offering” of being “given space” to protest. “What’s the point in gathering at one place and protesting? asked Hardeep Singh, 40. “Who is even going to pay attention to our demands?”
Some of the farmers were even mulling staying at the border and not entering the city. With little hope in the proposed talks, they felt blocking roads and causing disruption was the only way to get the central government to heed their demands.
“For two months, when you were making and passing your laws you didn’t think it was important to talk to us. What is there to say now? Now, we will seal Delhi from all four sides. We won’t allow anyone to go or come until a decision is made,” said Kooram Singh, 55.
For the farmers, a day at the march means a day away from their land and crops. Asked about any potential losses a farmer may suffer by joining the protests, Jainair Singh, 55, who identified himself as a member of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, said, “If we protest our livelihood is on the line, if we don’t protest our livelihood is still in danger. Modi has simply humiliated us way too much this time for us to sit back and wait for things to change.”
All pictures by Nidhi Suresh.
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