Even as celebrations broke out across social media this morning, a heavy silence cloaked the farmers’ protest site at Tikri border.
Hours before, prime minister Narendra Modi announced that the three “black” farm laws that farmers have been protesting against since November will be repealed. This was precisely what the farmers, who have occupied Delhi’s borders for a year, have been demanding, so we anticipated scenes of celebration and jubilation.
But this was not what we found at Tikri.
Farmers were gathered before a stage, while a group of girls sang to celebrate Guru Nanak Gurpurab. No one was talking about Modi’s announcement. This was the prevailing mood all day; Modi’s promise was immediately disregarded while the main response was suspicion.
Hanuman Singh, 75, from Haryana’s Charkhi Dadri said, “These are empty words and they mean nothing. We have learned that by now. Why didn’t he talk about a specific date by which the laws would be repealed? This is just another one of the government’s tactics to trick us. We will only leave once the law is struck down the same way it was brought into effect: as per procedure by the Parliament.”
During his address to the nation today, Modi had also appealed to the farmers to end their agitation and return home. But farmers at Tikri said that leaving the protest site was not an option.
“I've been here for a year, through Covid pandemic as well as the deadly cold and scorching heat. I have watched my fellow farmers die,” said Hanuman. “We deserve more than just words. Do you think we're fighting for ourselves? We're fighting it for you, so that the generation after us is not exploited. So that they are guaranteed the right to MSP.”
Several farmers told Newslaundry they question the intent behind today’s announcement. Many of them believe it’s an attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party to regain favour in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the assembly election in the state.
“I wouldn't put anything past this government,” Hanuman added. “The only truth I will accept is when it is on paper passed by Parliament."
‘Stranded at sea’
Tathagat Tulsi, a 24-year-old master's student from Bihar, was among the farmers camped out at Tikri today. He described the sense of community at the protest site saying that while celebrations might have taken place at the sister site in Singhu, none would be seen here since Tikri’s farmers are poorer.
“There are more small and marginal farmers here than Singhu. We automatically have more to lose,” said Tathagat. “It’s simple, really: all Modi needs to do is repeal the laws lawfully. And then we’ll be gone. We will not leave before that because we know that it will be impossible to restart this protest. They won’t let us come back.”
It's been a hard year at Tikri, Tathagat added, and his tauji, Hemant, agreed. Sitting inside their makeshift house made of bamboo, they said that while living at the protest site is far from ideal – with dengue and the coming winter a constant, looming fear – the farmers will fight on for as long as it takes.
Living here is like being stranded at sea, explained Ranjit Singh, 70, from Haryana. They are guided by their common goal of survival, but without a lifeboat in sight, while mirages of empty promises entice them.
“It's like living a monotonous dream, but we have each other to keep us going,” said Ranjit. “We give each other strength and hope.”
Tathagat showed this reporter a poem he wrote that captures the sentiment at Tikri. The last stanza read: