On January 23, Buta Singh, 48, returned from the farmers’ protest at Tikri against the three contentious agricultural laws. The same day, his younger son, Gurpender Singh, 23, was preparing to leave in the evening from Bangi Nihal Singh village of Punjab’s Bathinda district, with seven other neighbourhood men, to join the farmers’ tractor rally in the national capital on Republic Day. Now lodged in Tihar Jail, Gurpender is among 122 people arrested by the Delhi Police in connection with the violence that broke out on January 26.
On Republic Day, the otherwise peaceful rally, had turned violent after a section of protesters deviated from the approved route and entered the Red Fort resulting in clashes with the security personnel.
Gurpender is the youngest of the seven arrested from his village. Undaunted, his father Buta Singh said that he is proud of his son. “We are against the farm laws and ready for a long fight. My son didn’t commit any crime. He did not violate the decided route. He never entered the Red Fort. So why should we be afraid?”
Those who were arrested from the village are namely – Simarjeet Singh, 30; Jasgir Singh, 32; Sandeep Singh, 30; Makhan Singh, 42; Gurpinder Singh, 23; Veerander Singh, 32; Lakhvir Singh, 45.
Taking turns, Buta Singh and his elder son, Gulvinder Singh, 30, had already been to the Delhi borders to participate in the more than two-month-long protest. It was after them that Gurpender had gone to join the protest.
Two years ago, young Gurpender had half-heartedly joined his family’s farming occupation after he failed to qualify for military service. “He always wanted to be a fauji (army man), but could not qualify the racing round twice. After that, he was very upset and did not speak to anyone for days,” his childhood friend, Simranjeet told NewsClick.
Following the Republic Day clashes, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a United Front of over 40 farmers’ unions, had claimed that around 100 protestors had gone missing. A day later, Delhi police had published a list of those arrested for their alleged involvement in the violence.
Out of the eight men that had gone to join the tractor rally from the Bangi Nihal Singh village on January 23, one man named Rawal Singh had escaped and reached Punjab to inform their families about the arrests.
Rawal told NewsClick that they were returning to Tikri border after following the pre-approved route when, near Nangloi police station, his friends were “fraudulently” arrested.
“We all were called inside the police station but I remained outside to take care of our tractors and trolleys. After sometime, I was told that my friends have been arrested. I was shocked, called few families and rushed back to Punjab to inform others,” Rawal said.
‘Peaceful Protesters Arrested’
Rawal accused the Delhi police of arresting peaceful protesters and slapping ‘rioting’ charges against them. “Delhi Police is creating a narrative by arresting peaceful protesters as rioters. Me and my neighbours were returning after following the approved route decided by the unions. Then why were they arrested? What is their crime?” he asked.
As per the list published by Delhi government, 109 protesters have been arrested. The charges slapped against these men are: Section 147 (punishment for rioting), Section 148 (Rioting, armed with deadly weapon), Section 149, and Section 189 (obstructing public servant in the discharge of his public functions), among others. However, the farmers’ unions have claimed that over 200 protesters are missing.
In Bangi Nilhal Singh village, flags of Kisan Ekta could be seen fluttering in the afternoon breeze everywhere -- protruding from the windowsill of houses, mounted on the bonnet of cars, installed on the reflectors of two-wheelers and so on.
After farm laws were passed last year, announcements were made from the local Gurudwara educating people about the laws by the village’s first union chief, Jasgir Singh, 32, from Bharatiya Kisan Union (Sidhupur). As per the villagers, Jasgir had recently become the chief and was proactive in making arrangements to facilitate the travel of farmers to Delhi borders.
Inside Jasgir’s house, the families of arrested men had gathered for a meeting to decide the future course and legal avenues. At a distance, Jasgir’s seven-year-old son, Sukhdev, could be seen playing with a toy tractor by filling the trolley with sand and pulling it with a string while shouting ‘Wahe Guru Ji Da Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji De Fateh’.
“He has been asking where his father is. We lied that he is still at the farmers’ protest against the kaale kanoon (black laws). Since then, he is imitating his father,” said Kulvinder Kaur, Jasgir’s wife.
NewsClick met with the arrested men’s family members who condemned a section of protesters entering the Red Fort and said that their sons were following the pre-decided route. “We will go to Delhi and meet the lawyers. The Union has extended support and the Chief Minister (Amarinder Singh) has also provided us with lawyers. But we want to meet the lawyers and understand the legalities,” said Kaur.
While NewsClick’s reporter was speaking to the families of the arrested men, an announcement was made from the Gurudwara about the funeral ceremony of Jasvinder Kaur (name changed), grandmother of Veerander Singh, 32, who is also among those arrested. Villagers lamented that the old woman died without seeing her grandson’s face. “Bete de dard ne maar diya (the pain of her grandson killed her).”
In the absence of Jasgir Singh, the charge for announcements from the Gurudwara is being shared by the villagers. According to them, after every seven days, an announcement is made regarding the items required at Delhi borders by the protesting farmers.
“After the announcement, villagers gather at the Gurudwara with the required items at the announced timing and load it onto the trolleys of the people leaving from the villages. These black laws have forced us to be on streets,” said Binder Singh, father of Makhan Singh, 42, who has been arrested in Delhi.
Makhan Singh’s daughter, who is currently studying in Class 10th, aspires to become an IAS officer. “She is a topper. Always scores 90%. She will surely become an officer,” said Binder, her grandfather.
The day NewsClick visited the village, the seven men had already left for the Delhi borders for a week including two brothers of those arrested and they had gone carrying saag (greens), milk and wood to contribute to the protest.
The families said that the arrests have further strengthen their resolve to fight against the farm laws.
“Since the news of the arrest spread, more people are leaving for Delhi. We are ready to die but won’t budge,” said arrested protester Simranjeet Singh’s brother, Mandeep Singh.
Simranjeet had married three months ago and it was his first trip to the Delhi borders. His newly-wed wife, Manpreet Singh, without lifting her eyes, said, “Kaam karan vaaste gaye si, apna haq maangan gaye si (He had gone for work, he had gone to ask for his rights).”
Speaking to NewsClick, BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) senior chief, Jhanda Singh said, “We have condemned the Red Fort incident from the very beginning, yet the police have arrested peaceful protesters who followed the decided route and many others are still missing. The families of these protesters are tensed and feel harassed for being peaceful. We also want to ask then, when there was immense barricading everywhere, why not at Red Fort?” He added, “We don’t want anything from the government, just repeal the laws and we will leave.”