The farmers’ protest demanding repeal of the controversial farm laws completed 200 days on June 14 and is still going strong with neither the government nor the protesters showing any signs of letting it go.
The farmers have been camping on the Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders of Delhi from November 26, 2020. The second, deadly wave of COVID-19 may have distracted the media, but the movement is still alive.
It is a usual scene at the three borders — makeshift camps with tractors turned into homes, ‘langars’ to feed the protesters and leaders addressing fellow farmers from the stage. All the three protest sites are more than 10 km long and traffic remains diverted. Before the COVID second wave stuck, the protest saw lakhs of farmers coming together at every site, but now just about 15,000 farmers each are camping at Singhu and Tikri.
“For the last three months, we have maintained a count of 15,000 people on every border. The protesters sit here on rotation. There is a weekly shift of 10 farmers from every village of Haryana and Punjab,” Dr Darshan Pal, president of Krantikari Kisan Union, told The Federal.
Dhaula Sheoran, a farmer from Gamra village in Hisar district of Haryana, said, “I stayed at the protest site from November to February and returned for the harvest season. During March, April, May and June I visited the Tikri site once in a month for a week. The entire expense of living, eating and travelling for that one week is borne by the village as a whole. The message is simple: we will not go back without the repeal of three farm laws.”
Balbir Singh Rajewal, a farmer leader, told The Federal, “We are prepared for a long haul. We can sit here for six more months, two years or even 10 years, but we won’t return without the three farm laws being repealed.”
Farmers stay strong despite 500 deaths
More than 500 farmers have lost their lives during the farmers’ protest. Most of them died due to cardiac arrest, extreme weather conditions and hard living conditions. Doctors had said during the severe winter months last year that most deaths occurred due to extreme cold as farmers lived in the open or makeshift camps, which was not enough to protect them from the winter chill.
Some also died by suicide, in accidents or due to police excesses. Chronic diseases and hypertension too were the causes of death in some cases. At least 4 out of 500 protesting farmers have succumbed to COVID-19.
Gurnail Singh, a farmer from Majha in Punjab, said, “Corona won’t deter us. COVID may kill us once, but these laws will kill us every day. For us, the farm laws are as bad as the coronavirus.”
Gurnam Singh Chaduni, president of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Haryana), told The Federal, “The farmers had lived in the open when temperatures dropped to 2 degrees Celsius, and now it is above 45 degrees Celsius…I think the Union government is testing our patience.”
“We are here till our last breath. We have provided compensation to the kin of all the people who died during the protest. However, the government must know that we will not go back even if lakhs of us die here,” he added.
Countering extreme weather conditions
Delhi has seen several extreme weather events this summer. From temperature rising to 45 degrees Celsius one day to storms and rains the very next day, Delhi’s weather has remained unpredictable in the last three months. Cyclone Tauktae and Yaas also left an impact on the national capital.
Storms and rains have uprooted farmer’s tents at least 8 times in the last three months. Flowing water gushed into their tents which resulted in a lot of hardships.
Sanju Sharanveer, a farmer based out of Ludhiana, said, “Our tents got uprooted several times. It was not easy to control the tarpaulin in strong winds. Our entire luggage and kitchen goods were washed away in the rain. Every time this happened, it took us two days to reinstall everything again. But our spirits are high and these small problems won’t deter us.”
To beat the summer heat, farmers have installed air coolers, refrigerators and even air conditioners in some trolleys. They made permanent hut-like structures using stubble, tarpaulin and iron rods.
“We are used to working in the fields at 45+ degrees Celsius temperature. Here we have to just sit in the shed. This is nothing in comparison to the hard work we do on the farm. The government thinks we will go back easily, but we will not go back without they repealing the laws,” said Jasbir Singh Bajwa, a farmer leader.
What did the farmers gain?
Having lost 500 of their fellow farmers, spent loads of money, labelled Khalistanis and anti-nationals, one would think the farmers have all but lost their fight against the Centre. But the protesting farmers think otherwise.
“We did not start this protest to get a favour. We just wanted a repeal of the three draconian laws. We have lost many things, but what we have gained is brotherhood. The entire farmer fraternity from all over the country is united now. The enmity between the people of Punjab and Haryana has ended,” said Abhimanyu Kohar, a farmer leader.
“Even a small farmer, who was considered uneducated, knows what MSP is. They are talking about their rights. They know how politics, budget works in the country. Big, marginal and small…all the farmers stand together. The Dalit community, which was always ignored, is given a chance to present itself in the protest. Several Dalit leaders like Nodeep Kaur have been given a platform to speak,” he added.
Abhimanyu further said, “Women are coming out in large numbers. The voiceless people have got a voice now. This whole experience will remain etched in the minds of people. Even if the farmers’ protest ends today, it has already given back the power to the people. The people now know what democracy is. They know that they need to question the legislators.”
“Talking electorally, the farmer’s protest has given a big jolt to the BJP. People of Punjab and Haryana have rebelled against the party. We saw how BJP struggled in recent state and panchayat elections everywhere. In western UP, BJP is helpless and they are rethinking their strategies for the entire state,” said political analyst Rohtas Nagura.
Nagura said, “People have sympathy for farmers, which made them think twice before voting for the BJP. So, in a way, the farmers’ protest has given a bad name to the Modi-led BJP government — nationally and internationally.”
The govt’s stand
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said on June 9 that the government is ready to resume talks with protesting farmers, but wants the unions to point out their objections to the provisions of the three farm laws with sound logic.
Tomar said the government held 11 rounds of talks with farmers and also discussed it in parliament. “Neither the leader of any political party not that of farmers could clearly list out their objections to the farm laws. Therefore, the talks remained inconclusive.”
The minister said the government is committed towards farmers and it also respects farmers’ views. He said they are willing to hold talks with farmers.