New Delhi: Paramjeet Kaur, 37, is inconsolable. The whereabouts of her father — 75-year-old Jorawar Singh — is still unknown. The resident of Ikolaha village in Punjab’s Ludhiana district has been missing since the farmers’ tractor rally on January 26 in Delhi. “My father is an elderly person. He does not use cell phones. Please help me find him,” she begged on being asked to narrate the sequence of events of disappearance of her father.
She last saw her father when she had visited the Singhu border of the national capital on January 22. “I urged him to return home, but he said he would not leave the protest until the laws were removed, even if it meant dying at the border,” she said.
Singhu is one of the five doorsteps of Delhi where farmers have been staging a peaceful sit-in since November 26 last year, opposing the three agricultural laws enacted by the central government.
She struggles to gather courage to speak but bursts into tears. “I don’t know how and where he is. I even don’t know whether he is alive or dead. I often asked him to return, but he always refused — saying that he has already lost one of his ‘jeevan saathi’ (life partner, his wife) and can’t afford losing the other (his three acres of land),” the emotional daughter, who is also the mother of a five-year-old, said, her voice choking.
Singh had been protesting ever since the Prime Minister Modi-led Union government introduced the three farm laws in September last year, in the name of agricultural “reforms”. As a member of the Rajewal faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, which is headed by farmers’ leader Balbir Singh Rajewal, Jorawar Singh had actively in participated railway blockades in Punjab. He also participated in the farmers’ mobilisation drive, going from door-to-door across villages — urging people to join the agitation, his fellow protesters said.
“He blocked railway tracks and sat outside petrol pumps owned by Reliance (Mumbai-headquartered India’s multinational conglomerate company, which is said to be one of the direct beneficiaries of the three legislations). And when ‘Delhi Chalo’ call was given by the farmer unions, he packed his bag to march to the national capital,” said Kaur, highlighting the dedication of her father to the ongoing movement.
His daughter Paramjeet Kaur
Also see: Farmers Protest: The Real Truth About Red Fort
He reached Tikri border (also between Delhi and Haryana) on November 26, 2020 and then moved to Singhu border. He was last seen at Singhu on January 26 when large scale violence was witnessed after some of the protesters entered the city with their tractors, violating the designated route for the tractors’ rally. A small group of agitators had managed to reach the Red Fort and hoisted the ‘Nishan Saheb’ (a Sikh religious flag) on the empty poll on the rampart of the Mughal-era monument.
His daughter came to know about his disappearance through a man from neighbouring village who had returned on January 27 for some work. “When I asked about the well-being of my father, he revealed that he has been missing since January 26 evening. He said several older people, new to the city, had walked to Delhi along with the rally. I was told the police brutally lathi-charged them, with many suffering injuries. Several others were arrested,” she said, adding that, “my father is elderly and had never been to Delhi throughout his life. Even if he did enter, he would have done unintentionally.”
Kaur pleads everyone who contacts her to find information about her father “for the sake of humanity” with folded hands.
She added that after she found her father to be missing, she began frantically calling farm union leaders, but failed to elicit proper response, sometimes being assured that he will return safely. “I called on Rajewal’s number, but it went unanswered. Following several efforts, one of his men picked up the call. I told him that it is the responsibility of the union to find my father out as he had gone to Singhu border with them. I was assured that we would reunite soon. Around a month has passed, but there is no information with regard to his whereabouts,” she said.
But, she added that, Baldev Singh Sirsa, a farmer leader who heads the Lok Bhalai Insaf Welfare Society, did call her and offered her all help.
She also came to Delhi’s Singhu border and checked the Delhi Police list of arrested farmers, but her father’s name was not there. “It is being said that not every arrested farmer’s name is recorded in the list,” she pointed out.
Even though she has registered a missing person’s report with Ludhiana’s Khanna Police Station, she said that no one either from the state or the central governments has contacted her so far. “After my complaint, police officials from Khanna Police Station had come to my home to take my father’s photograph and other details but they never returned to me with any information,” she added.
Also read: ‘Ready to Die But Won’t Budge’: Families of Arrested Farmers Resolve to Continue Protest
On being asked if she had visited the hospitals in Delhi in search of her father, she replied in the negative, adding that, “I am a single mother. I don’t have any idea to go about the same.”
Her father was her only support. She lost her younger brother a few years back and mother in January 2020. She is also fighting a legal battle of divorce. Her other brother is separated from the family.
Punjab police officials claim their search is on, but they don’t have any information so far. “We are doing our best. Since the incident has taken place in the jurisdiction of Delhi and Haryana Police, we need their co-operation, which we are getting as well. Let’s hope for the best,” said a senior official of the district police.
At least 128 protesters have been arrested by the Delhi Police under 22 FIRs registered at various police stations across the capital in connection with the January 26 violence. They have been booked under serious charges such as rioting, assault and attempt to murder.
While the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (an umbrella body of 40 farmer unions) have roped in a battery of lawyers together to help those arrested get bail and fight their cases, it is 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 had assured farmer unions that his government would help to find the missing farmers. But with each passing day, families of the missing persons are growing increasingly distraught and desperate.
‘16 Farmers Missing’
Jorawar Singh is not the only farmer who has been missing after the January 26 incident. According to the farmers’ body, the whereabouts of at least 16 persons are still unknown.
Among them is 27-year-old Bajinder Singh who belongs to Kandela village in Haryana’s Jind district. “He had gone to Tikri border on January 24 with a fleet of 1,000 tractors from the village to take part in the tractors’ rally on January 26. Our villagers last saw him somewhere near Nangloi. He was heading towards the Red Fort when they stopped him from going ahead. People started running here and there when the police lathicharged the crowd. He got lost in the commotion. No one knows what happened after that. Everyone returned to the village, except him. We are concerned about his well-being. We don’t know what condition he is in and even he is safe,” said his cousin Baljit Singh.
Bajinder Singh (Haryana).
He added that he and his entire family have been searching for him for the past one month, but to no avail. “We have posted his photo on social media, appealing people to inform the family if they spot him anywhere or know about his whereabouts. We have also filed an FIR at Nangloi Police Station and a habeas corpus petition in the Delhi High Court (which on February 10 has directed the Haryana Police to provide all possible assistance to Delhi Police to locate him).”
Questioning the intentions of the Delhi Police, he asked if the police have not held anyone in “illegal custody”, then why were they reluctant to analyse the CCTV footage of all possible routes.
In the writ petition filed by Baljeet, it has been stated that Bajinder never returned after the rally and since then his whereabouts are not known. It has also been alleged that the family had earlier approached the Nangloi Police Station for registering a missing person’s complaint but the Station House Officer concerned refused to do so.
“The inaction and negligent attitude of the police have led to the apprehension that his brother has been illegally detained and, therefore, they are deliberately resisting from writing any official complaint or FIR and providing any information to the petitioner in this regard,” Baljeet’s counsel said in the writ filed before the court.
FIR filed by Bajinder's cousin Baljeet.
Bajinder’s disappearance has been the hardest for his widowed mother. “I am just concerned about his safety. I urge the police to inform us if they have arrested my son. I have no grudge against them. We will fight a legal battle and secure his release on bail. But please let me know where he is,” his weeping mother told NewsClick.
With two acres of land among two brothers, Bajinder is a small farmer.
The Delhi Police has told the High Court that three teams have been formed to locate Bajinder, and they have interrogated 15 people in this regard. They have also told the court that it has not arrested any such person in connection with the violence which occurred on January 26.
Similarly, 45-year-old Maha Singh from Moth village in Hisar district’s Narnaud tehsil has also been missing post the Republic Day incident. The farmer, who grows wheat and mustard, had been camping at the Tikri border since January 18.
His friend Sushil Dhanda was accompanying him at the protest site. “Since I was busy with cooking and serving food at a community kitchen (langar), I did not participate in the tractor rally. Although I am not sure, Maha Singh must have gone as he is untraceable since then. He was not carrying his cell phone, which he had forgotten in the village when he left for Delhi,” he said.
According to Dhanda, Maha Singh has a wife, a son and four daughters, who are extremely terrified. “We tried to search him in Delhi hospitals and other possible places, but could not trace him,” he added.
Meanwhile, the SKM has expressed worries over “unidentified persons” booked by Delhi Police in three FIRs. “Of the total 22 FIRs, 18 have named the accused. But the rest three FIRs have unidentified persons as suspects. Two of these FIRs are registered at Punjabi Bagh Police Station and one at Kirti Nagar. We are worried as the police can name anyone in these FIRs,” said Advocate Prem Singh Bhangu, convener of the SKM’s legal team.
He also said the list of missing persons is gradually shrinking (32 to 17). At least 15 of them have been traced, including some who are in jail.