“The whole of Haryana is up in arms,” exclaimed Parveen Sarsod. The 27-year-old farmer from Sarsod village in Hisar district has been camping at Tikri, on the border with Delhi, where thousands of farmers have amassed to register their dissent against the Narendra Modi government’s farm laws, which they believe will skew agricultural markets in favour of large corporations.

While attention has remained affixed on the protest sites on the Delhi border, the number of protestors is so large they extend deep into Haryana. The Rohtak bypass, 40 kilometres from Delhi, for instance, is occupied by hundreds of tractors, trolleys and tents.

At regular intervals on the bypass, bhandaras or community kitchens and medical aid stalls have been set up. Across the villages, farmers are collecting donations and mobilising support for possibly the largest and longest-running farmer protests in India in three decades.

And yet, this groundswell of anger in Haryana has not received the same attention as the protests in Punjab. Partly because the first push for the protests came from Punjab, when Sikh farmers drove up to the Delhi border on November 25. The Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar then dismissed reports that farmers from his state were part of the protests.

But from initially providing support to the Punjab farmers, the Haryana farmers are now out in full force. They mocked the claims made by members of the ruling party that the protests had been infiltrated by “Khalistanis”, a term coined for those who demand for a separate Sikh homeland – claims that took a serious turn last week when the National Investigation Agency issued summons to some protestors.

“Look at us and see how many terrorists we are,” said 80-year-old Dayanand Dalal, dismissing the allegations, and prompting laughter among the other volunteers of a community kitchen set up to support farmers protesting on the Rohtak bypass.

“We will be made into bonded labourers,” said Dayanand Dalal, who farms on five acres of land in Asoda Todran village in Jhajjar district. “We will not have any rights [if these laws come into place].”

Tractors and trolleys parked along the Rohtak bypass. (Credit: Shoaib Daniyal)

Crowdfunded protests

In Haryana, farmers emphasised the popular nature of their protest by pointing out that it was being crowdfunded. “Money is pouring in from individual donations from various villages,” explained Dayanand Dalal.

Donations had sustained the movement so far, the protestors said. “Even if it [the donation] is coming from outside, it is our people who are sending the money,” said Parveen Sarsod, who farms on 14 acres of land.

“One of our men is in Australia, he sent Rs 11,000 for the langar. Another friend is sitting in Surat and he sent Rs 5,100,” Sarsod continued. “What is wrong in that?”

Apart from donations, the residents of several villages said they were sending sacks of flour, rice, milk and vegetables on tractors every few days to the community kitchens to keep them running.

The Hindi word most commonly used by protestors from Haryana when asked about the new laws is aakrosh. Anger.

“There is a lot of discontent against the bills,” said Rajesh Gill from Samain village in Fatehabad district, who is protesting at Tikri border. “Thousands have come from my village to protest.”

Praveen Sarsod.

Jai Singh, a 65-year-old farmer who owns six acres of land, and hails from Asoda Todran village in Jhajjar district, said: “They never asked anyone before they passed the laws. They took the excuse of Covid and passed it at their own will.”

He added that the laws would deeply impact Haryana because of the strong presence of the mandi system.

Mandis refer to government-run markets or agricultural produce marketing committees. Much of the agricultural produce, particularly wheat and paddy, is sold here, including to the government at the minimum support price announced every year. Farmers fear that the new laws would end this system.

In Jhajjar district’s Mandothi village, residents were adamant that the farm laws be revoked, fearing that the new system would pauperise them.

“The kisan will not get the right rate if these bills come,” said Ajay Dalal, a 32-year-old farmer who farms on four acres. His father is protesting at Tikri border and would return in a few days after which another batch of residents would be sent to protest.

Protestors from Haryana were supported by various Khaps. (Credit: Vijayta Lalwani)

The role of khaps

While farmers from Punjab and Haryana are protesting together, their methods of mobilisation are different. In Punjab, much of the organisation has been done by farmer unions. But there is no such union culture in Haryana.

“There is a lot of anger in Haryana but it is not very well organised,” explained Surender Singh from the Inqalabi Mazdoor Union, Punjab, now camped out at Tikri. “There are no unions like in Punjab,” he said.

Instead, the movement in Haryana is largely being run by traditional caste organisations known as khaps – specifically, khaps from the Jat caste.

At a community kitchen along the Rohtak bypass run by Jats from the Dalal gotra or clan, Dayanand Dalal explained how Dalal villages were collectively pooling in resources.

“The expenditure per day to run the bhandara is at least Rs 1 lakh,” he said, “and 12 villages under this khap take turns to run it.”

Sajjan, camped out by the Rohtak Bypass, stated with some pride: “There is no politics in this protest. Everything has been done by our khaps.”

Like almost all Haryanvis protesting on the bypass, Sajjan had come with a khap – in his case, the Satrol Khap. He was camping with his clan of Satrol Jats from Hisar district.

Sacks of rations piled at the building from where Dalal Khap runs its bhandara. (Credit: Vijayta Lalwani)

Caste divide

While the khaps provide the organisational muscle, they also represent a weakness in the farmer’s movement in Haryana: its reliance on Jats.

No one in rural Haryana seemed to be opposed to the protest, but other castes were lukewarm towards it. A stark contrast to the enthusiasm Jat protesters showed.

In Jhajjar district’s Mandothi village, for instance, Balmiki residents have contributed little to the protests. “This is all about zamindars, whoever has land are the ones who will protest,” said Narendra Bodh, 39.

Bodh’s position is hardly surprising. Balmikis are landless Dalits who are now increasingly finding employment in the industrial units of the state. Bodh, for example, works in a shoe factory earning Rs 8,500. “We do not have land so why should we fight,” he explained.

Sajjan Kumar, 26, who works with Bodh, agreed: “What do we have? We are earning our own money.”

Jats insist that “36 biradri” – an idiomatic way to refer to all of Haryana’s castes – are part of the movement. But Sajjan Kumar said the Jats in this village had repeatedly asked them to send a few of their family members to the Tikri border to protest. He refused.

In Mattan village, Ramkaran is from the backward Lohar or ironsmith caste but has now turned to farming given that “all ironwork is now done by machines”. Ramkaran broadly supports the agitation. But he has not taken part in it himself, nor contributed to it in any way. “It is good but I have not gone [to protest], the Jats go,” he said.

Unlike the Jat protestors, Ramkaran did not have much of an idea why the protests are taking place in the first place, illustrating how little he is involved with them.

Kushal Pal, Head of the Department of Political Science, Dyal Singh College, Karnal, said the political situation in Haryana was different from Punjab.

“Jats held power for a long time but have now lost it under the BJP [since 2014],” he explained. “To add to that, the violent Jat agitation in 2016 created discord with other castes who would not want to ally with them.”

“As a result”, Pal continued, “this is by and large a khap movement with only small sections of support from Rajput, Brahmin and Ror communities”.

Sajjan Kumar and Narendra Bodh at Mandothi village. (Credit: Vijayta Lalwani)

A trembling coalition

Despite that, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Haryana is feeling the heat.

As the anger against the laws mounted, chief minister Khattar organised an event addressing farmers in a village in Karnal, only for it to get cancelled after the venue was ransacked by protestors on January 10.

“If a CM cannot move around in his own state then you can understand the akrosh,” said Jai Singh, the 65-year-old farmer from Asoda Todran village in Jhajjar district.

What caused a deeper dent was that farmers felt betrayed by the other half of the ruling coalition – the Jannayak Janata Party, helmed by Dushyant Chautala. The JJP largely depended on Jat votes to get elected in 2019 – a caste that are large agriculturalists and strongly oppose the new laws.

A poster at Tikri border depicting Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar and Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala bound to Narendra Modi.

This has put immense pressure on the coalition, with several JJP MLAs registering their dissent against the laws.

“When the farmer does not want these laws, then what’s the necessity for implementing them?” JJP MLA Ram Kumar Gautam was quoted as saying in a report in The Hindu on January 13. “The government should immediately repeal the laws and then engage farmers in talks.”

Another JJP MLA Jogi Ram Sihag from Barwala constituency, has openly supported the protests. But that hasn’t satisfied his constituents.

“He says two kinds of things,” said Parveen Sarsod, whose village falls under Sihag’s constituency. “He will come to the protest at the toll and say he is with farmers but he is not giving his resignation.”

If the movement continued, the ruling coalition would crumble, he said.

Another protestor from Haryana echoed similar views. “This has shamed Chautala more than Khattar,” said Gill. “Nobody will vote for JJP after this.”

But the momentum of the agitation meant that farmers frequently comment on how it has brought together Punjab and Haryana – two states that have had a tetchy relationship in the past.

“The only good thing that has emerged from these laws is the brotherhood between Haryana and Punjab,” said Dharampal Dalal, a farmer from Asoda village who helped run the bhandara on Rohtak bypass.

“Modi has done us this favour,” he said.