Gurpreet Singh, a farmer from Patiala, has been camping at Delhi’s Singhu border since November 29. Eighty days have passed since then as thousands of men and women continue to demand that the government repeal the three farm laws passed in September last year.
In January, the central government for two years. But, as Gurpreet said, “Assi sauda sweekar nahi karde.” We don’t accept the offer.
But now, summer is coming and with it, the harvest time for rabi crops like wheat and rice. At Singhu, protesting farmers told Newslaundry that they have made alternate arrangements and will not be going back home anytime soon.
Gurpreet hails from Mavi Sappa, his “pind” – a colloquial term in Punjabi for village. “We came here pind-wise in 10 to 15 trolleys and formed committees. Whoever is away from the village, the committee will ensure someone takes care of their crops,” he explained.
Gurpreet owns 14 killas of land; one killa is approximately one acre. Ask him why he’s protesting, and he said he worries that the entry of corporates will pave the way for the takeover of his land for contract farming.
Take Jio, for example, he said, referring to the telecommunications company started by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group. “Initially, a mobile connection was free,” he said. “Later, they began charging Rs 600.”
Similarly, Gurpreet said, he currently sells 22 tonnes of wheat for Rs 7 lakh per year, at Rs 2,000 per quintal. “What if they ask us to rent land for a specific period of time?” he asked, adding that local mandis are more reliable for farmers when it comes to selling their produce.
Now that he doesn’t have to worry about his harvest, Gurpreet is settling down at Singhu for the long haul, with arrangements being made for mosquito nets and air coolers ahead of summer. The other farmers with him told Newslaundry that they’ve come with ration stocks to last them six months, and are prepared to stay at Singhu for a year.
‘Keep going back to village on rotation’
Jangwat Singh, 23, is a farmer from Jagraon tehsil in Ludhiana. He drove his tractor to Delhi on January 23 and has been camped out at Tikri border.
Gurpreet Singh from Patiala came to Singhu on November 26.
Jangwat Singh was hit by a teargas shell on January 26.
Jangwat was hit by a teargas shell during the violence of January 26. He suffered injuries on his left leg and has been regularly visiting Singhu since then to pick up medicines.
He told Newslaundry that he owns 10 killas of land where he mostly grows kanak (wheat) and jhiri (rice). Like Gurpreet, he too is worried about private companies eyeing the land owned by farmers. “So, I have been going back on gera, rotation basis, and hope to take care of my harvesting during my next visit home,” he said.
Many of the farmers participate in this rotation. As Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait , the farmers have prepared a set of rota for every village. “A new batch of farmers comes to the protest sites every time a group from here leaves for the villages,” he said.
Satnam Singh, 50, came to Singhu 10 days ago from Gurdaspur. A small landowner with five acres of land, he says he supports the protests after seeing the condition of farmers in Bihar.
“I used to drive a truck in Bihar,” he explained. “I know very well how corn is sold there for Rs 500-600 per quintal. That’s why so many locals from Bihar migrate to Punjab to work as farm labourers.”
Explaining how the rotation basis works, Satnam said: “In a family of four male members, two or three will come to Singhu and the rest will stay back.”
He believes the laws were made by people who “hardly know anything” about agriculture. “Why else would someone who is used to sleeping on a manja (charpoy) sleep by the roadside if these laws were meant to benefit us?”
‘Won’t go back even if crops are spoilt’
“Crops may be spoilt for one or two seasons. How does it matter?”
This was Hardev Singh, a farmer from Moga district, who’s made his tractor his home for the last two months.
Explaining why a mandi is important to him, Hardev said: “What if a farmer comes from Uttar Pradesh comes to Punjab and sells wheat at Rs 1,990?”
Hardev Singh's tractor turned caravan.
He’s referring to the fact that barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade of farmers’ produce. Since the MSP for wheat, as per the rate , is Rs 1,975 per quintal, farmers like Hardev, who own two killas of land, are scared of fierce competition once the new law is enforced.
“We hardly save any money from the sale of crops,” he said. “The crop which is usually bought from us for Rs 1,700-1,800 per quintal is sold in markets at Rs 25 per kg.”
Hardev has converted his tractor into a sort of caravan, which shelters 20 people, him included. Fifteen of them sleep at night with the other five acting as guards. Flanked by posters of Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, and Kartar Singh, for protesters like Hardev, the ongoing agitation is no less than a battle.
“It is these black laws that have compelled us to come here,” he said. “And we won’t go back till they are repealed.”