On January 29, a mob of 150-200 people arrived at Singhu border. In the that followed, farmers’ tents were torn apart, petrol bombs were flung into a while a police officer . The police eventually lathicharged and teargassed the mob away. Afterwards, the police arrested , instead of the attackers.
According to the police, the mob consisted of people living around Singhu who were frustrated with the farmer protest. The farmers claim the attackers were not local residents but footsoldiers of the Sangh Parivar. Indeed, the fact-checking website Alt News that at least a few of them were affiliated with the BJP.
Dev Prakash and Shyam Prasad live in Singhu village. They maintained that the people who confronted the farmers were not from their village. How do they know they weren’t? “We live here, our villages are small and we know each other,” Prakash replied. “Those people were clearly not from here. But our village’s name is being smeared because of them.”
“Also, there’s so much police barricading. The police don’t even let us go home. How will we gather 150 people and go confront the farmers?” Prasad asked.
Since the violence at the Red Fort on Republic Day, both security personnel and police barricades at Singhu have multiplied. Before January 26, vehicles could freely move until the edge of the protest area. Now, barricading begins about 2 km from the protest site and vehicles aren’t permitted beyond the first hurdle. Journalists have to show their press identification cards to be allowed entry.
Barricades at Singhu border.
At Singhu, police refuse to speak to the media. After multiple attempts to get a sense of where the mob might have made their way towards the protest site from despite intense security and barricading, one police officer, who refused to be named, said, “This is a very porous protest. The locals did not enter from this side. They came from the back.”
Nitin, who is from a village near Sonipat, close to the Haryana side of the protest site, has a different story to tell. Since the strict barricading post Republic Day, Nitin, who works in Delhi, has to walk 5-6 km to find transport. On January 29, when the violence occurred, he was near the police barricades, on his way to work, when he saw the mob. “I saw BJP workers gathering at the barricades with my own eyes,” alleged Nitin, who wouldn’t give his name or his village’s for fear of the police. According to him, the “BJP workers” had initially gathered near the first police barricade and raised pro-BJP slogans.
When asked if anyone in the mob was a local villager, Nitin said that most were not locals, except for one or two BJP workers. “We have been witnessing the protest for two months now. We would have gotten frustrated long back if we had to. Why would we suddenly wake up one day and cause violence, especially when we know that there is so much police here? We also know that, if we do that, the police may come find us in our homes. We’re not foolish,” he said.
While Nitin is frustrated that he has to walk so far to get to work everyday, he is not angry with the farmers. “They are also here because they are helpless. And moreover, they’ve been so kind to us villagers. So many of us go and eat at their langars regularly. So, it would be strange if we suddenly woke up and decided to attack them,” he said.
Sheikh Musa and his wife Kohinoor live in a slum just 200 metres from the protest site. The slum has 300 families from Bengal who have been living in Delhi for the last 25-30 years. Most of them work as ragpickers and some are rickshaw drivers. Like Nitin, Musa didn’t recognise anyone in the mob. “I can say for sure that it wasn’t anyone from our village”, he said, adding that everyone in their village supports the farmers. Kohinoor also doesn’t blame the farmers. “It’s the police I am tired of. They simply don’t allow anyone to pass, they threaten and intimidate us if we ask them to let us go. It’s been worse since Republic Day,” she said.
A slum 200 metres from the protest site.
Speaking of the farmers, Kohinoor said they have been kind to them. “We have seen it all now. First the lockdown and then this. Our life has just stopped. But at least the farmers have been giving us food and they gave some of us blankets as well. But how long can we eat their food also?” she asked.
Ashok Kumar lives in Singola village, which is near the protest site. He said that everyone is endlessly walking for everything. “We walk to get rations, we walk to get water, we walk with our harvest to go to the mandi, we walk to reach the hospital. How long are we going to keep walking to get out basic things?”, he asked.
His friend Sushil added that even when there is a death, an ambulance cannot be called to the village. “Relatives can’t reach here and we have to walk with the body till the main road because the police will ask a hundred questions,” he said.
Near a police barricade, Mukesh Anand and Kavita Anand, stand on the divider of the deserted road, cutting branches from a tree for firewood. They are from Singola village. “We can’t afford to take our cauliflower crop to the market,” said Mukesh. To get his harvest to the mandi, Mukesh now has to walk 2 km, stand on the side of a highway and bargain with rickshaw drivers to help him get there. “They have hiked their rates. I don’t blame them but I can’t afford it,” said Mukesh.
Mukesh Anand (right) and Kavita Anand (left).
Mukesh and Kavitha are unhappy with the farmers. “Yes, we have trouble because of police barricading but the police would not even be here if not for the farmers,” they said.
Rama Devi doesn’t share the sentiment. She and her family of four stay right next to the barricaded area in Singola village. She said the farmers are not to be blamed. “We’re also farmers. We should understand their pain. The least we can do is be patient,” she said. She is deeply distressed with the police. Since the movement of vehicles near her house has been stopped, she now has to walk close to 2 km to fetch water for her family.
“It all depends on the mood of these policemen. Sometimes, they let us through and sometimes they don’t. There is no logic to it,” she said. If the police do not let her in, she has to walk 2 km to get to her house which is hardly 500 metres from the barricades. “Once, when I was asking the police to let me in, he started waving his lathi to make me go away. All the water in my pot fell and I had to walk again to get it,” she said.
Most of the roads locals or journalists have to now take do not have streetlights. Kavitha, Kohinoor and Devi all agree that for women it feels a lot more unsafe to take a detour post sundown. “There’s so many people now - the police, the protesters, media people. How will we feel safe stepping out of our houses after dark?” Devi asked.
“Stuck in between”
Of the 22 local residents Newslaundry spoke with, 17 explicitly said they support the farmers but are tired of the police. Five placed the blame on the farmers and said if not for the farmers they would not be inconvenienced at all. None of them, however, were part of the mob that attacked the farmers on January 29. Neither did they, except Nitin, recognise anyone. And all 22 are tired and frustrated with walking and being forced to take detours by the police.
“Yes, the farmers are protesting and the police go on increasing their barricading every day. For nine months, we struggled due to the lockdown and now for two months we have been suffering because of this. We are the ones now stuck in between and nobody cares. Who knows, tomorrow we’ll also sit on the highway in protest. What else can one do?” said Nitin, as he walked away with his 8 kg bag. He had to walk another 3 km to reach his workplace.