"Ek pathe fauj lad dee, dooje pathe ve morcha tera. Modi naal dat ke lade.” These lines translate as, “On the one hand, you are fighting for the nation as a soldier. On the other, you have to struggle against injustice. Put up a determined fight against Modi.”
These are the opening lines of a song composed especially for the farmer protests. Its composer, Shingara Singh Dosanjh, welcomes people who stop at a tea stall near his tent at Singhu on Delhi’s border, where farmers have been protesting against the new farm laws brought by the Narendra Modi government for nearly three months.
How old is he? “Seventy one years and five months,” Shingara replied. “Modi ji is younger than me by four months and 12 days.”
Shingara is from Dosanjh Kalan village of Phillaur tehsil in Punjab. He’s the uncle of actor and singer Diljit Dosanjh. “Balbir Singh is my elder brother,” he said, referring to Diljit’s father.
Shingara Singh has been camping at Singhu since he arrived from Jalandhar with the ‘Dilli Chalo’ march organised by the Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Sangathan in late November.
Diljit was recently in the following heated exchanges on Twitter with fellow actor Kangana Ranaut over the farmer protests. On December 2, when Kangana a tweet suggesting an elderly Sikh woman participating in the protests was Bilkis Dadi of Shaheen Bagh fame, Diljit called her out for posting false information. She had to delete the tweet in which she had insinuated that the elderly woman was “paid Rs 100”. The tweet sparked a war of words as Diljit continued to slam Kangana in Punjabi every time she would take a dig at the movement.
Holding a baton fitted with an iron arrowhead as a symbolic kirpan, Shingara sat on a charpoy laid out under a collage of posters depicting scenes from the protests as well as historical figures and movements. One of the posters celebrating “unity of farmers” displays pictures of BR Ambedkar and Diljit. Another features a caricature of Kangana holding a lotus flower as Diljit drives past on a tractor.
“We began this agitation in June, initially by going to the office of district collector and approaching the local MLAs,” Shingara said over tea and nutri-nugget pakoras which, he explained, are known as boneless fish cutlets in Punjab. It was in June, with India still in lockdown to contain the Covid pandemic, that the farm laws were as ordinances. They became the law once the parliament passed them in September 2020.
“On October 1, we stopped trains in Punjab in protest, then gave a call for a Bharat bandh. It was followed by the march to Delhi in late November,” he recounted. “We wanted to raise our voice so that the parliament could hear us.”
A former government schoolteacher who retired after 35 years of service, Shingara owns six-seven killa of farmland on which he mostly grows wheat and rice. As to why the farmers were concerned about the new laws, he gave his own example. If farming had been profitable enough, why would he have needed to take up a government job?
Citing the plight of sugarcane farmers who haven’t received dues for the last few years, he said, “If the government cannot pay those farmers, how can we trust the Adani to do so?”
In September 2020, while responding to a question in the parliament, the government had the outstanding payment dues to sugarcane farmers across the country stood at Rs 15,683 crore. The worst affected state was Uttar Pradesh where unpaid dues for the marketing season of 2019-20 stood at Rs 10,174 crore.
On February 3, a controversy erupted when American pop star Rihanna and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted in support of the farmer protests. In response, the foreign ministry issued a statement denouncing the “temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others”. Soon, several celebrities such as actors Akshay Kumar, Kangana Ranaut and Ajay Devgn, and former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar rushed to defend the government. The hashtag #IndiaAgainstPropaganda began to trend after the ministry mentioned it in their official statement. Referring to this episode, Shingara said, “Bollywood celebs also eat what a farmer produces. When they will not get flour at even Rs 100 per kg, then it would be difficult to get rotis.”
Articulating his apprehensions about the new laws, Shingara feared that they could lead to a in the incomes of farmers and the setting up of cold storage by private companies which may in turn result in inflation. “At the mandi, onion is sold for Rs 2-5 per quintal. If the Ambanis and Adanis store it in their warehouses it will be sold to the poor at Rs 100 per kilogram,” he said.
A poster next to his tent features prominent Sikh revolutionaries from India’s freedom struggle. One shows members of the Ghadar Party, which was in 1913 and led an armed struggle against British. “This revolution won’t stop,” he said, after explaining the symbolism of the Ghadar Party poster.
Asked how long he planned to stay and protest and Singhu, Shingara simply said, “2024.”