In a massive show of unity against the three controversial Farm Laws, lakhs of farmers gathered at the grain market in Punjab’s Barnala district on Sunday to assert their demand to repeal the laws. This was second-largest gathering in Punjab after the Kisan Mahapanchayat held at the grain market in the town of Jagraon in Ludhiana district on February 11.
The Kisan Mazdoor Rally, organised by Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) and the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union (PKMU), saw the participation of leaders from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), including Balbir Singh Rajewal, Ruldu Singh Mansa and Sukhdev Singh. The leaders boosted the morale of the protesting farmers despite the fact that the umbrella farm organisation had spoken against conducting mahapanchayats in the state.
Calling it a “historic struggle”, SKM’s Rajewal said that to make the movement successful “unity has to be achieved; overcoming the differences of caste, religion and regions.”
Addressing a sea of protesting farmers, their leaders highlighted the importance of unity to keep the movement alive. Speaking to Newsclick, BKU general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokri said that the aim of the rally was to strengthen the movement. “The idea was to create awareness among the farmers regarding the movement. At the core of this struggle are the ordinary farmers and supporters who have united for a common cause,” he added.
Kokri said that rallies would be taken out in villages to create awareness and mobilise the masses. “The movement has not come up out of thin air. We have organised rallies in the past for awareness. Once again, rallies will be taken out in each village of Punjab,” he added.
Calling it “true patriotism”, BKU state president Joginder Singh Ugrahan emphasised on the need to strengthen the non-religious character of the farmers movement and to protect the movement from the “opportunistic” political parties.
“The spirit of struggle of a toiling people against imperialist multinational companies is true patriotism,” Ugrahan said.
Commenting on the January 26 incident, when a small section of protestors had deviated from the approved route and entered the Red Fort resulting in clashes with the security personnel, Ugrahan accused the Modi government of communalising the movement.
“The Modi government tried to label the farmers’ struggle as the struggle of a specific community by using some forces who penetrated the farmers struggle and tried to paint it with the colour of communal nationalism but it was successfully defeated by the power of people’s unity,” Ugrahan said.
PKMU’s state president Lachhman Singh Sewewala told Newsclick that the rally was a show of the unity between kisan (farmers) and mazdoor (workers).
“The government and its media says that the only a section of farmers have a problem with the laws. We wanted to show that these laws are against mazdoors too. And there is no animosity between the kisan and the mazdoor – we are together in this,” he added.
Commenting on the how workers would be affected, Sewewala said: “These laws will eventually result in farmers losing their land. When there will be no farms where will the farm labourer go? They will be unemployed.”
According to Sewewala, The Punjab Village Common Lands Regulation Act, 1961, which gives ownership rights to over one-third of common land or Panchayat land to Dalits, a large part of whom are labourers, will be first affected by these laws. “These common lands will be the first to be snatched. It is not only about farmers,” he added.
The rally also massive participation by women donning yellow dupattas in solidarity. BKU women wing leader Harinder Bindu necessitated on the role of women farmers in the struggle. “Women farmers are a powerful section and have contributed greatly to the agitation till now. Their participation is necessary to make the struggle a success,” Bindu said while addressing the protesters. Women were appealed to head to Delhi to attend the Women’s Day celebration on March 8.
The farmer unions also demanded the release of protesters, including Nodeep Kour, a 24-year old labour rights activist who was arrested by the Haryana police from the Singhu Border. A judicial inquiry was demanded into the death of Navreet Singh. Singh, a 25-year-old farmer from Uttar Pradesh died during the farmers’ rally in the national capital on January 26. The reason behind the death is still unknown. While the police has maintained that Singh died after his tractor overturned, eyewitnesses and members of his family have said that their son was shot.
While outlining the future course of action the farmer leaders gave a Delhi Chalo call for February 27.