New Delhi: Undeterred by the “pizza langar” taunts, protesting farmers have established a modern, urban lifestyle in a very rural set up at Delhi’s Singhu border where farmers from Punjab, Haryana and other states have been staging a peaceful sit-in since November 26 against the controversial agricultural laws enacted by the central government.
The protesting site today has geysers, laundry services, big solar panels, gigantic bread-making machine, massage chairs, a library and even a tattoo stall.
Supporters of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government had made sarcastic comments after a “pizza langar” was organised at the Delhi-Haryana border by a group of youth from Amritsar.
“Free pizzas for protesting farmers, massage chairs, is this a protest or a five-star spa? And who is paying for all this” were some of the snarky response of the government supporters, who alleged that the protest has been “hijacked by vested interests”.
Hours after, hundreds of geysers sprung up on the 15-km long stretch of the highway-turned-township. Simultaneously, hundreds of camping tents turned the venue into a spectacle. Over the days, technological resources have been put in place by NGOs, gurudwara committees and good samaritans to ensure the agitation is not hampered by the lack of basic amenities.
The protest area also has electricity-operated automatic machines that make 1,200 chapattis (bread) in an hour, washing machines and solar panels installed on tractor-trolleys for charging mobile phones. A group of artists from Punjab has set up a stall to ink tattoos for free at the protest site with an aim to “motivate farmers and give them a memory of the protest,” they said.
To ensure that the agitators read and become informed while registering their protest, a makeshift library-cum-cultural centre has also been set up at Singhu border. It provides books and newspapers to the youth and also imparts school education to students from nearby slums. In addition, it also gives a platform to discuss politics and current affairs.
“WATER GEYSERS — A DESI JUGAAD”
The water geysers put in place use wood-fire to boil water. They have a hollow cylindrical structure, with a hole in the middle to burn the wood. Normal water is poured in through a funnel-like inlet on one side. An outlet on the other side pipes out hot water.
“These geysers are made locally with complete desi jugaad (local makeshift tech). It is easy to use in rural areas. You will find it in almost every rural household in Punjab. It uses inexpensive fuel like firewood or charcoal. As they also work on domestic wastes, these geysers are solving the big problem of waste disposal here. A truckload of waste is generated here every day. The presence of these geysers would also help get rid of some of the garbage, which is not a small thing,” Pramjit Singh, who was preparing to take a bath, told NewsClick.
He said the geysers have been made available to the langars (community kitchens) by a Delhi-based local sangat (a Sikh congregation) as the mercury dipped in the national capital region. “It is free for all and anyone can use it,” he said.
With a visible fall in the temperatures across the protest site, these geysers are proving helpful for protesters to bathe amid the chilly winter spell. Its price stands somewhere between Rs 3,000-3,500 a piece in local markets.
FREE LAUNDRY SERVICES
One of the major challenges that come up while living away from the comfort of homes is washing clothes. Initially, the protesting farmers were cleaning their clothes at petrol pumps and on road sides, using the water supplied by municipal bodies.
But with continuous dip in temperatures in the national capital and the number of protesters increasing with each passing day, it was becoming difficult to manage. At this juncture, washing machines were arranged by a few people.
Prince Sandhu first brought two washing machines with him when he was returning to the protest site from his home in Punjab’s Ludiana with washed clothes. “I brought two washing machines with me so that the worry about the chore can be addressed,” said the 30-year-old man who has been taking part in the protest since November 27.
Soon after, five more washing machines were donated by people, and the “laundry sewa” begun in full swing ever since.
“Hundreds of people wash their clothes in these washing machines every day. Those who know how to operate the machines, do it on their own. We help elderly people who don’t know how to operate it,” he said.
Sandhu said he wakes up at six in the morning and help people wash their clothes till 8 pm.
“NO POWER SUPPLY? WE HAVE OUR OWN”
When protesting farmers laid a siege at the NH1 on the Haryana-Delhi border after they were forcefully stopped by the Delhi police from marching toward the national capital, the Haryana government discontinued power supply to the area.
Unfazed protesters managed to get electricity on their own by installing solar power panels atop their tractor trolleys. “We are not depending on the government for anything we need. After the Haryana government cut power supply to deter our resolve, we managed it on our own. Power supply is needed for sound systems, lightening and charging cell phones. We arranged several solar panels to generate power ourselves,” said 27-year-old Pushpinder Singh from Karnal in Haryana.
ENSURING TIMELY MEALS
Bread-making machines that ensure timely meals for the protesters have made the langar operations smoother. It’s fully automatic--the dough is put inside, it cuts the dough into circles and in no time, the chapattis are belted out.
“We start the machine around 7 am and it runs till 12 am. We serve meals to over 5,000 people every day,” said Hardeep Singh from Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, which manages one of the langars at the protest site. There are several langers and majority of them have this machine given the high footfall of protesters.
A group of tattoo artists from Punjab’ Ludhiana district is inking tattoos for free at the protest site. The patterns include picture of farmers harvesting crops or holding agricultural equipment like tractors, images of lions, and motivational quotes such as such as ‘Nishchay Kar Apni Jeet Karo’ (emerge victorious with firm resolve) and ‘Kar Har Maidan Fateh’ (win every battle).
“The idea behind setting up this centre is to remind them about the protest later and keep the protesting farmers motivated at present. It also aims to attract the youth to join the protest,” said one of the two tattoo artists, Chetan Sood. He said everyone is doing his bit by contributing to the protest, and so are they.
The idea behind the library, said organisers, is to provide protesting youth a place to study, engage in informed debate and understand the nature of the protest.
“We are here since day one. We felt that youths here, apart from participating in seva activities, have very little to do. So, we created this open space for them to get involved in creative activities. We named this library-cum-cultural centre as Sanjhi Sath, which means shared chaupal (place for meeting),” Gurinder Singh, an Oxford University alumnus, told NewsClick.
“We brought some books and started a library where we are not selling or giving away anything. The idea is that people come here, read and get involved in informed debates,” he added.
The place turns into a school from 11 am till 2 pm for children coming from nearby slums. A group of youngsters teach the underprivileged kids in addition to engaging them in creative activities such as painting and singing.
The makeshift library also has an exhibition, which was set up after a painter from Bhatinda, Gurpreet Singh, gave us his paintings.
“Since it is a chaupal, people come here with their problems such as sanitation, cleanliness and their requirements. As we get donations from people, we also address the demands people put forward,” he said.
Asked as to what kind of discussions usually take place, he explained, “There are three major streams of conversations the participants fall into: the politics behind the protest (like what does the government want to do, what the farmers unions are doing and how people feel about it, etc.), revolutionary history of Punjab and figures such as Bhagat Singh, Kartar Singh, Baba Sur Singh, etc. People also discuss how a farmers protest has been given a political or religious touch, how the media is helping the government pushing the narrative of Khalistan, and so on.”
OPEN AIR GYM
Several protestors from Haryana are trained wrestlers for whom working out is very important. Since they belong to the family of farmers, they are taking part in the agitation, which they believe is in the larger interest of peasants.
To ensure that both training and protest go hand in hand, they have brought heavy equipment with them to the protest site — which is serving them as an open-air gym.
“The equipment we have brought here weights 350 kg. We work out here twice a day,” Pamma Padodhi, one of the wrestlers, told NewsClick.
When the protesters are not taking part in speeches, meetings and assemblies, devotional songs such as Gurbani kirtans keep reverberating, with agitators taking part in different groups.
They said it keeps their morale high. In addition to the religious songs, organisers also screen movies based on the history of India and the valour of Sikhism.
Hundreds of farmers are protesting at the borders of Delhi since November 26 against the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. They also want rollback of the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020.