Since November 25, hundreds and thousands of farmers have been sitting at the door of India’s capital to mark their protest against the Modi government’s newly passed farm laws. On Republic Day, they have been allowed to enter Delhi on their tractors for a protest rally.
The stories of this movement have been captured in Trolley Times, a four-page biweekly newsletter that was founded on December 18. Here are some excerpts.
The fourth war
You can see an 85-year-old man roaming around at Singhu front with military medals on his chest. He is Amarjit Singh, resident of village Naino Kot, District Gurdaspur.
He fought in the first Indo-China War of 1962. He was captured during the war and returned to India after spending nine months in Chinese prison. In 1965, when the Indo-Pakistan War happened, he fought from Jammu to Satwari.
Later he took part in the war of 1972. Bapu ji retired from the rank of Subedar. He tells that soldiers and farmers have an intimate relationship. The farmers’ sons are serving on borders of the country and the farmers are fighting for their rights on the borders of Delhi.
Bapu ji believes that if we don’t fight today, our future generations will suffer because of these
laws and condemn us. “I fought three wars to protect the country, but didn’t achieve martyrdom. This is the fourth war, we have to win, or we will sacrifice our lives for our rights,” he said.
Workers stand with farmers
Sangeet Toor, Jasdeep Singh
On December 26, a thousand-strong group of farm workers, including 450 women, arrived at Tikri on buses and mini-buses. “We were picking cotton and took two days off to come here,” Lal Singh from Maujiaan village told us.
When asked about their livelihoods, Bibi Charanjeet Kaur said, “We were already dead. Coronavirus affected the rice season. Now, we are faced with massive electricity bills.”
“Electricity bills will break our backs,” said Lal Singh, “So we are here with the farmers. If farming does not survive, neither will we.”
Some workers have come on their own. Jindu, a young worker from Ramuwala Kalan, arrived on his tractor purchased on loan finance. Another worker cycled all the way from Zeeray to the protest site. He told a television channel enroute in an interview that Guru Nanak had invited him, that Guru Nanak Sahib resides in Sangat (assembly of the devotees) and that he skipped his day labour to witness the presence of Guru Sahib. When the journalist offered him a ride in his car, the worker emotionally replied that he will get there on his own strength. Faced with these courageous “Guru Ke Bete”, the government has already lost the moral battle a long ago.
Bhagwant Singh Samaon, the state president of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, had called upon the landless farm workers to join the struggle with the slogan, “Save your livelihood, Save the Land”. He said the workers had arrived to take part in the protest in numbers that far exceeded his expectations. This is because the farm bills do not just affect the farmers but are also an attack on the workers’ livelihood. The closure of the government procurement program will make the food grain more expensive. The workers understood this and joined the movement.
According to the workers, the slogan of “Kisan Mazdoor Ekta” (Farmer Labourer Unity) is limited to the stage – the unity on the ground level will take time to materialise. When the workers asked for higher pay for planting rice during the lockdown, they were faced with social boycotts. Whenever the workers demand their rights, especially those related to the Shamlaat (village common land, a third of which is reserved for Dalits), they are met with police complaints. This slogan will only become reality when the farmers’ attitude changes. Despite these differences, the farm workers are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with farmers.
The farmer is also a worker
“Brother, I am a farmer of Bihar and do labour work in Ghaziabad,” Upinder Kumar told us at the Ghazipur protest site. During the lockdown, he lost his job. He said he was furious as well as sad. The government neither gave a good rate for his crop nor did it make any arrangements for food and other provisions during the lockdown. “No company gives a good price for the five bighas of crop,” Kumar said. “Sometimes the corn crop is wet and sometimes not of good quality, they say. These are only excuses. We can’t even make cost price. That’s why we have to become labourers in the city.”
Mehar Singh said, “I am a labourer and a farmer too. I come daily with my wife and my children to do service in the free kitchen.” Singh, also from Bihar, continued: “What farmer brothers are saying, it is in interest of everybody, nobody can understand this thing more than me. It is really important that the people of the city should understand these bills and their consequences, otherwise we will never be able to free ourselves from the fraud of this thief government.”
Why Kulveer Kaur could not protest
Kulveer Kaur did MA in sociology. She poured her heart out to me. With a brown shawl wrapped around her head and neck, and sitting out in a temple courtyard in village Gharacho, she spoke to me from the heart. It was difficult for me to look into the eyes of this 23-year-old girl. She wanted to pursue BEd, but due to reserved category student fee hikes, she couldn’t continue her studies. After finishing up her MA through the distance education program, she helped her mother in the paddy fields this summer.
When I met her on November 25, she told me that she worked as a daily wage labourer now. “Do you go to the protests?” I asked. “We Dalits are a political fraction without privilege to act on our wishes. People will talk if I go.” Her mother told me that they only allow their daughters out after much consideration. “It becomes difficult to marry them off,” she said.
Kulveer told me that she wanted to go to the protests, but she had witnessed her mother and other women participating in the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee. They often had to visit police stations. Kulveer heard appalling accounts from them. “We possess only two things – Aadhaar card and this body, and we don’t even have full ownership of these,” Kulveer’s grandmother said.
To register their names in history, to mark their presence in a historical movement and then to return home for a decent life are privileges many of our sisters simply do not have. Their desire is their participation.