New Delhi: On Monday, the farmers’ movement against the three farm laws completed five months. Amid the countrywide COVID surge, the fighting spirit of the protesting farmers remains undaunted – for, it is a struggle for survival for them in the long run.
Once again, the protest sites at Delhi’s borders are witnessing swollen crowds as farmers have started returning post harvesting season.
Even after the Central government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stopped talks with farmers’ organisations over a possible resolution three months ago, the farmers expect a resolution will come this time as the country fights a deadly virus, led by a failing government.
Sitting on a cot in a newly built bamboo hut to beat the scorching heat, Baljeet Singh Grewal from All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) tells NewsClick that jathhas (groups) from nearby villages are set to join the protest.
Grewal said more farmers would be joining the protest in the coming three to four days. “Well, the movement has brought a sense of unity not only among various farmers’ organisations that earlier differed with each other but has also brought together farmers of Haryana and Punjab on a common platform to resolve their issues as critical as water sharing between the two states.
“When you ask me about the government failing its citizens during the worst public health crisis, the farmers faced it much earlier last year when they left their homes for this struggle. Which government chose to lathi-charge its own people in a democracy, dig roads to stop the movement of people? It really did not consider us citizens. With corona raging across the country, the similar apathy continues,” he says, adding “I think our biggest achievement has been to teach the country how a movement is fought when despair loomed large.”
Grewal shared memories when he and his comrades were preparing to leave for the journey from Raikot in Ludhiana to the national capital.
When asked about the possible conclusion of the movement in coming months, the AIKS leader said: “It is for government to decide. We really did not have any timeframe in mind. Some farmers say they have rations stocked up for six months. Even today, when five months have passed, we do not know how long it would take? What we know is that we will not return until these laws are repealed and a law ensuring minimum support price is passed.”
Addressing a sizeable audience at Singhu Border, Balbeer Singh Rajewal, President, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal), dressed in white kurta and pink turban, said the greatest strength of the movement was that it dislodged every propaganda furthered by the mighty campaign teams of BJP-RSS.
“Even as the country is battling coronavirus, the government and its subsidiaries want to evacuate the protest in the name of the raging pandemic. First of all, we wish to make it clear that farmers are not fond of staging dharna. It is the rigidity of the government that has compelled us to sit-in. Second, what’s the worth of such tall claims when the Prime Minister and Home Minister do not hesitate to address mammoth rallies in West Bengal? Similarly, they do not utter a single word when millions gather for Kumbh Mela in Haridwar and indeed facilitate its conduct? “
Further lashing out at the Modi government, Rajewal said: “They pushed for clearing us out by planting stories in newspapers about the so-called ‘Operation Clean’. Of course, the coronavirus is a concern, but let’s be clear on the fact that not a single infection case was reported at the borders. We have our own medical teams in place who have kept their infrastructure ready to meet any challenge. These teams are even planning to visit the 40 villages to distribute medicines and drugs to the local population. And, if it is really concerned about the health of farmers, it should take back the laws. Who is stopping it from doing so?”
However, farmer leaders do recognise that the movement may prolong if the government announces stringent action like lockdown across the country.
Suresh Koth from Bharatiya Kisan Union Chaduni said village teams are collecting one sack of grain from each village to feed the protesting farmers as well as workers from the industrial areas.
“We are preparing for situations like lockdown. How can we ignore the fact that the workers would die if such measures are taken. We are staging protests in the midst of an industrial hub where thousands of workers live. The government may show apathy, but we cannot do this to our brothers. We will run extra langars to feed such population. We are also planning to distribute food packets in national capital to the poor and needy when lockdown has been placed,” Koth said.
In a statement, Samyukta Kisan Morcha- a collective of farmers’ unions- said that under the coordination of the SKM constituents, farmers sitting on several borders of Delhi will distribute food packets and other important goods to hospitals in Delhi. Already, farmers on the Ghazipur border are distributing food at the bus terminals, railways stations and hospitals. The packing process will be started on Tuesday on the Singhu Border as well. A group on the Tikri Border announced essential services and asked people to contact the morcha if any needy in Delhi has a problem regarding unavailability of food.