Paramjeet Kaur last saw her father, Sardar Jorawar Singh, on January 22 when she went to meet him at the Singhu border between Delhi and Haryana. A 75-year-old farmer from Ludhiana’s Ikkolahi village, Jorawar Singh had been protesting against the new agricultural laws since November 26, camped at Singhu along with thousands of other farmers from Punjab and Haryana.
“He had been living out there in the cold winter for two months,” said Paramjeet Kaur, 37. “I urged him to go back home. But he said he would not leave the protest until the laws were removed, even if it meant dying at the border.”
On January 23, unable to convince her father, Paramjeet Kaur returned to her village. On the night of January 26, she received frightening news: Jorawar Singh was missing.
“My father must have gone towards Lal Qila with other farmers in the rally, because some of those other people were later found in jails. But no one has been able to find my Bapuji,” said Paramjeet Kaur, crying inconsolably on the phone. “He is not in any jail, not at Singhu, nowhere. No one knows where he is.”
“He is so old,” she said. “What if someone hit him with a lathi? How can he just go missing?”
Paramjeet Kaur is not alone in her anguish. At least 21 protesting farmers have been missing in Delhi since January 26, when a Republic Day tractor rally ended with incidents of violent clashes between the Delhi police and protesters.
At least 125 protesters have been arrested in police stations across the capital since then, charged with rioting, assault, attempt to murder and several other crimes. While farmer unions have put together a large team of lawyers to help them get bail and fight their cases, they are struggling to locate the whereabouts of those who have gone missing without a trace.
On February 4, ten days after their disappearance, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal assured farmer unions that his government would help to find the missing farmers. But with the days ticking by, families of the missing persons are growing increasingly distraught and desperate.
‘He got lost in the commotion’
In Haryana’s Kandela village, for instance, young Baljit Singh has a string of questions for the Delhi police and government about his missing cousin, Bajinder Singh.
“Delhi is such a big city, and Bajinder has disappeared there. How are we to know where he is? And what condition he is in? Is he even safe?” asks Baljit Singh, an automobile factory worker.
Bajinder Singh, his aunt’s son, is a 30-year-old wheat farmer who lives with his widowed mother and older brother in Kandela. On January 24, he joined a group of men from his village and headed towards the Tikri border between Haryana and Delhi to participate in the Republic Day tractor rally. It was the first time that the central government was allowing protesting farmers to enter the capital city since the start of the protests in November, and it was also Bajinder Singh’s first visit to Delhi.
“The government had fixed some routes for tractors to take during the rally, so they must have gone down one of them,” said Baljit Singh. “He was last spotted somewhere near the Nangloi area, by one of our villagers. At some point there was police lathicharge and people started running away, and he got lost in the commotion. No one seems to know what happened after that.”
Bajinder Singh’s family and friends have spent the past ten days in a state of fear and anxiety, constantly calling Delhi police stations, protest leaders and lawyers in the hope of getting some information about him. “We have posted his photos all over Facebook and also filed a missing person’s complaint with the police here in Haryana, because we are not being allowed to enter Delhi city,” said Baljit Singh, who claims his cousin did not own a phone. “If he is not in any police lock-up, then why isn’t the police going through the videos of all the CCTV cameras all over Delhi?”
Bajinder Singh’s disappearance has been the hardest for his mother, according to Baljit Singh. “She just wants to know that her son is safe,” he said. “Even if he has been arrested and is in jail somewhere, we will handle it – we will apply for bail and fight the case. But the important thing is to know where he is.”
‘We have not found him anywhere’
Further away, in Haryana’s Hisar district, Sushil Dhanda and Harshdeep Singh Gill of Moth village are struggling to keep their missing friend Maha Singh’s family hopeful. A 45-year-old wheat and mustard farmer, Maha Singh had been camping at the Delhi-Haryana Tikri border since January 18.
Sushil Dhanda was at the protest site too, but busy with cooking and serving food at the local langar or community kitchen. “I did not go in the tractor parade towards Lal Qila on January 26, but Maha Singh must have gone,” said Dhanda, also a farmer in Moth.
“We know there was lathi charge and violence at Nangloi, ITO and Red Fort, but we have no idea where Maha Singh could have been or whether he even reached Red Fort,” said Gill, an advocate. “He had forgotten his phone in the village when he left for Delhi, which makes it harder for us to locate him.”
Maha Singh has a wife, a son and four daughters, said Dhanda, who are growing more and more terrified each day. “They are so afraid that he might be lying injured somewhere,” said Dhanda. “A few of us have gone in small groups to try and look for him in Delhi, but so far we have not found him anywhere.”
Like Bajinder Singh, Maha Singh’s family and friends are also in constant touch with Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s legal team, and have posted his photos all over their social media in the hope that someone might offer some information about his whereabouts.
Lawyers from the farmer unions’ legal team told Scroll.in that they would not be able to reveal any information about the 21 missing persons unless they found some trace of them. Scroll.in also contacted police stations and police zonal headquarters near Singhu and Tikri borders, but did not receive any response.
Meanwhile, a tearful Paramjeet Kaur begged the media for help to find her aged father. “My mother had died last year and my younger brother has also passed away,” said Paramjeet Kaur. “I beg you with folded hands, find my father for me. I don’t want to lose him too.”