On January 13, farmers protesting against the Narendra Modi government’s new farm laws at Singhu on Delhi’s border celebrated Lohri by burning copies of the contentious laws. It was the 50th day of the protests and they called it Kisan Sankalp Diwas, or Resolution Day.
They were gathered in groups around open wood fires, singing and sharing stories, and feeding the poor at the Lohri langar. The inviting fragrance of almond lassi and rice pudding filled the air. On the main protest stage, dramas were being enacted.
The festive cheer, though, couldn’t mask their angst and worry. Not least over the Supreme Court setting up a committee to speak with them in an attempt to end the protests. Chief Justice of India SA Bobde’s bench the implementation of the farm laws on Tuesday and formed a four-member panel to hear the farmers’ grievances and submit a report within two months. The constitution of the committee drew immediate criticism because all its members are .
That the court formed the committee even after the farmer unions leading the protests had that they won’t engage with it has upset the farmers at Singhu.
“Even the committee is theirs,” complained Jathedar Kuldeep Singh, 64, meaning the Modi government. “The judge is also theirs. Did you not see? They haven’t come to a decision about our problems, right? They haven’t been able to give a decision on the anti-Sikh carnage of 1984 yet. So many of our young men were killed and they have still not given a verdict. So what are they going to do now? Everything is the government’s now.”
He demanded to know why the Supreme Court had not questioned the government for “neglecting” the protesters, who are forced to camp out in the open in the harsh Delhi winter. “What facilities has the government provided to the farmers? They haven’t taken care of our food or stay. They haven’t even given us a bottle of water. Why hasn’t the court questioned them about all this? Shouldn’t they be asking the government about our well-being?”
His views were echoed by Ramesh Chikara, 55, “By forming this committee the top court has shown that it’s against democratic principles.”
The government should work for the people by upholding their rights and not for profiting private corporations, Chikara added.
Asked what he made of the top court setting up a committee to hear different views on the farm laws, he argued that a referendum could have better served the purpose. “If the government is making a law, they should either hold a referendum or build consensus, find out who all agree and disagree with the law, who is satisfied with it. If a referendum shows that 60 percent of the people are against a law, we shouldn’t allow it. Why isn't there a system like that?”
At a hearing on January 11, Bobde had asked “why old people and women are kept in the protests”. “I want to take a risk. I want you to tell them that the CJI wants them to go back. Try to persuade them,” the . “At some time, we might say in the order that old people and women need not be there in the protests.”
The women protesters at Singhu took strong exception to Bobde’s comments and expressed their determination to stay put until their demand to repeal the new laws was accepted by the government.
Jaswinder Kaur and her mother-in-law, Dileep Kaur, had gone home to Punjab some weeks ago but returned last week because they wanted to celebrate Lohri with fellow protesters. “We all are one family now. Our relationship isn’t brittle to be broken,” Jaswinder said.
Lajwanti, 85, chuckled when asked what she made of the Chief Justice’s remarks. “They think we women are weaker than men,” she said. “We contribute as much as men in farming. We stand equal with our men and will continue to do so. Our lives are here now. Modi isn’t the one feeding us. We have brought our own food.”
According to a factsheet from , around 80 percent, or about 17 crore, of the Indians employed in agriculture and allied activities are women, producing 60-80 percent of the food and 90 percent of dairy products. But only 13 percent of them have property rights.
Undeterred by the Supreme Court’s decision, the farmers are going ahead with preparations for the planned Republic Day tractor march to the capital. “On January 26, we will have 5-6 lakh tractors in Delhi. No matter what Modi does, even if they shoot us, we will enter Delhi on the 26th,” said Sundar Dahiya, 35.
Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the joint front of over 40 farmer associations leading the protests, the launch of "Desh Jagriti Abhiyan" early this month. This awareness campaign began on January 6 and ends on January 20. As part of the campaign they will mark January 18 as Women Farmers’ Day.
“If they think we are going to leave this place they are mistaken,” Dahiya said, resolutely. “We have arranged for so many tents, so many vehicles, food, for what? Why would we put in so much work if we were planning to leave soon? We’ll make permanent tents here.”
What if the Modi government doesn’t repeal the laws even after, say, two months?
“Then we will wait here until the next general election, which is scheduled for April 2024, to overthrow the current government,” Dahiya said.
Rebecca Rose Varghese contributed reporting.
Pictures by Anna Priyadarshini.