Malerkotla (Punjab): On Sunday afternoon, Malerkotla’s Anaj Mandi was humming with activity – not with the usual arrival of grains on tractors but with thousands of farmers carrying flags with their union’s symbol. For a change, the usual bidding clamour for crop yield was replaced by slogans of resistance against CAA and NRC. The middlemen, who otherwise can be seen busy negotiating crop prices, watched from the sidelines.
The occasion was a mega rally against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). Farmers, who came from across the state, were joined by students and workers.
The choice of protest venue -- the biggest grain market ground in Punjab – was significant.
“We are here to register our opposition to the decisions taken by the Narendra Modi government,” said Jhanda Singh, a farmer from Bhatinda, adding that “farmers of Punjab don’t accept CAA, NRC.”
As many as 15 organisations, including Left-leaning workers’ fronts, farmers’ associations and students’ unions, took part in the rally which participation of around 75,000 protesters. Delegations from Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, Jamia Millia Islamia were also present in solidarity.
“This government paints everyone who criticises it as ‘anti-national’,” said Harjeet, a university student from Patiala, adding: “We won’t remain silent. Not just Muslims, we also don’t agree with the law and will protest.”
Kuldeep, another student from Patiala, said: “The Prime Minister says that protesters can be identified by their clothes. Come to Punjab and see how Sikhs and Muslims are standing shoulder to shoulder, protesting against the discriminatory law.”
As protests erupted across the country after the CAA was announced in December 2019, Malerkotla, the only Muslim-majority town in Punjab, became the epicentre of the resistance against the discriminatory law. Since January 7, a women’s vigil, inspired by the Shaheen Bagh sit-in protest in Delhi led mainly by women – has been underway. This further inspired 24x7 sit-in protests in other cities in the state, such as Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Mansa.
Aarif Idrees, a teacher who resides in Malerkotla, elaborated on the sentiment of brotherhood between Sikhs and Muslims, something that he believes has got a strong and celebrated history, particularly in Malerkotla.
“The brotherhood goes back to the time, when Sher Mohammad Khan, the Nawab of Malerkotla, protested the decision of bricking alive the sons of Guru Gobind Singh – the tenth guru of Sikhs,” he said, adding that the Sikh community later commemorated the voice raised by Khan by building a Gurdwara, namely, Gurdwara Haa da Naara Sahib – only few kilometers away from the site of Sunday’s anti-CAA-NRC mega rally.
Idrees further explained how this history also inspired the local community to not shed blood in Malerkotla during the Partition period, which, according to him, was among the few towns that didn’t witness violence.
“A town with such a history couldn’t stay quiet when such a law is being forced upon the people that might bring back the horrors of 1947 back,” Idrees told NewsClick.
Similar sentiments were shared by other protesters as well, who were sloganeering in Punjabi, “bhai-bhai ko ladne nahi denge, 1947 banane nahi denge.” (We will not allow a repeat of 1947. We will not allow brothers to fight with each other.)
Amid this celebration of communal harmony, which was continuously being highlighted on the stage, economic questions, too, were raised.
“Our college doesn’t have enough teachers. There are no jobs. However, such questions are not being addressed by the government,” Simran, second year B.A. student from Ludhiana, told NewsClick, accusing the Modi government of running away from its responsibilities.
“We farmers still don’t get enough in return for our yields. Many suicides have been reported in my pind (village) in past years due to huge loans. Instead of solving these problems, the government is diverting attention from our livelihood issues by bringing such laws,” said Gardev Singh of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta) (Ugrahan).
Singh told NewsClick that public meetings and nukkad nataks (street plays) on these issues, along with CAA-NRC, will continue till the end of this month.
“We will cover every pind and raise awareness among people about discriminatory CAA-NRC, and at the same time engage with them on questions related to their livelihood. Raising these burning issues and bringing people together from different social strata, is the need of the hour,” he said.
It may be recalled that farmers from Punjab have been regularly participating in the protests in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, expressing their solidarity with the cause and in protest against granting citizenship on the basis of religion, which is what the CAA is primarily about.