Business Standard

Then and now: Farmers want their voice to reach Delhi


A farmer leader breaks the calm at the Shambhu Highway as he speaks into the microphone asking his fellow protesters to be careful about sharing informatio­n with the media. The highway at the Punjab-haryana border, some 200 km away from Delhi, has been home for thousands of protesting farmers for close to two weeks now.

While the unrest is a reminder of the yearlong agitation in 2020-21, there’s expectatio­n of a better tomorrow. As this reporter arrives at the scene of action, protesters appear restrained as they observe Black Friday to mourn the death of a 21year-old farmer, Shubhkaran Singh. He was killed at the Khinauri border three days ago amid clashes.

‘’We had a lot of martyrs back then as well but not because of direct action,” says Jagtar Singh, sarpanch of Bapraur, a district in Patiala, while comparing the ongoing protests with the farmers’ stir in 2020-21.

“We were promised back then that our issues will be looked at. But what happened? They set up a panel which had their people. MSP (minimum support price) has still not been legalised,’’ he adds. “We only want to ask what is the need for a fifth meeting? An amicable solution could have been reached in the first four itself,” his brother interjects while getting ready to serve at the langar (community kitchen).

Points out Amarinder Singh Malwa, a farmer leader from Amritsar, that the protest back then was for repealing the three laws. ‘’The laws were repealed and we were told that MSP for certain crops would be legalised. Here we are after four years. Nothing has happened,” he says.

While the aroma of lentils, potato curry, ladyfinger and mixed vegetables fills up the air, Jagtar Singh talks to Business Standard about the langar. “The food being served here is being brought from all the neighbouri­ng villages. They understand the cause behind the protest. Even if someone is not able to come and join us for the protest, they are supporting us by cooking and sending food.” He adds: “Imagine, a smoke bomb was thrown at our langar as well.”

Similar langar set-ups are placed every 500 metres across the protest site spreading up to 8 km. Tractors and trucks are lined up on the stretch, leaving a bylane for daily or emergency commute.

Even as farmers have announced a tractor march on February 26, the mood here is far from violent. “We don’t want to cause any inconvenie­nce to anyone. We just want our voice to reach Delhi. Thousands cannot be held responsibl­e for trouble created by maybe one or two miscreants,” says Chaukaur Singh, a farmer from Sangrur.

“Be it stubble burning or protests, it is a common perception that only the people staying in cities are being inconvenie­nced,” he adds. And then there’s another side. “We are also sons of this soil. We don’t like to act against them (farmers) . But I also have to feed my family,” a rifleman placed inside Sajjanpur village, adjoining the highway, says. Near the stage where the leaders make announceme­nts, a father-son duo could be seen arguing about the better crop to grow that would pay better.

When asked about the crops the government had assured to buy at minimum support price (MSP), the father says: “We don’t even know the contours of the agreement. Do we know if they will set a time limit? Do we know if they would give a private firm the contract to buy the produce? How can we agree without knowing the details of the agreement?”

After the barrage of uncomforta­ble questions is a lassi stall for a brief respite. Soon enough, a farmer from Bihar is heard ranting about the lack of mandis in the state. “If we don’t have mandis, where do we sell our produce? It is become increasing­ly difficult to sustain our life,” he says.

When asked about why farmers from other states have not participat­ed in this protest, he simply says: “Because most couldn’t afford to. We live on a day-today basis. Very few can leave everything and come. The parties don’t do anything for them.”

Amid all this, a gender issue surfaces. There are hardly any women, unlike the previous time. Harman, a 20-year-old farmer, who seems to be the voice of many here, says: “The agitation takes a violent turn at times. It’s been fine since the past two days but there is no guarantee. So our mothers and sisters don’t participat­e actively.”

Harman’s parting shot exudes confidence about the farmers making it to Delhi soon. ‘’They (women) will be in Delhi for sure,” he says with a smirk.

 ?? PHOTO: REUTERS ?? Farmers on Friday listen to a speaker at a protest site during the march towards New Delhi, at Shambhu border, between Punjab and Haryana
PHOTO: REUTERS Farmers on Friday listen to a speaker at a protest site during the march towards New Delhi, at Shambhu border, between Punjab and Haryana
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