With end of farmers’ protest in sight after a year, gloom gives way to relief
Delhi’s three border points – Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur -- were chock-a-block with people and tractors on Friday as protesting farmers marked the one-year anniversary of the protest against three farm laws that the government has announced it will repeal in the upcoming Parliament session.
The scene at the border points -- which led to jams and blockades for commuters -- was festive. Punjabi music was blaring, vendors were selling flags and memorabilia, and there were performances by artistes and speeches by protesters who have camped at these spots for months, refusing to budge despite appeals by the government and local authorities.
Jeet Singh and Sukhwant Singh, two elderly farmers from Amritsar, who stayed at Singhu site for the entire year, said the place was like home for them now, but they longed to go back to the real homes. “It will feel strange when we do leave, but we hope this moment comes soon. We hope the Prime Minister will stick to his word and repeal the three laws,” Jeet, 80
At langar (community food) services in the area, the menu was beyond the regular -- with jalebi, kheer and sweetened rice among the delicacies. Gurnam Singh, a volunteer at one such service said the dishes were decided based on the demand over the past one year. “Jalebi stalls would particularly get a lot of people, so we decided to make them for the occasion,” he said.
Avtar Singh, a vendor selling bags, badges and flags, said he earned several thousand rupees on Friday, much more than his usual collection, with people wanting to take something back home. “Not just farmers, but Delhi locals have also come today,” he said.
Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait earlier this week said 30 tractors will head to Parliament on November 29, to coincide with the first day of the winter session, to press for a law guaranteeing minimum support price (the price at which the government buys agricultural produce). However, senior farm leaders said protesting groups had called for a meeting on Saturday to take a call on the tractor march.
“We have planned a march towards Delhi on November 29, but SKM [Samyukt Kisan Morcha] will take a call about it on Saturday,” Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Saurabh Upadhyay said.
At the Tikri border protest site, farmers were seen crowding around the main stage to cheer performers and speakers. Rajbir Singh, a farmer from Batala who made his way to Delhi on November 27 last year after crossing multiple barricades at the state crossings said: “We did not bow down. For days, our body would ache and our eyes would constantly be watering, but this only made our resolve stronger.”
Last year, thousands of farmers reached Delhi’s borders to protest against the three laws brought by the Centre, that aimed to reform farm the trade. While several mini protests broke out, Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur emerged as the ground zero for the farm protests.
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the government will repeal the three laws in the winter session of the Parliament, beginning from November 29. Most farmers say they will leave once the repeal is official, while some they want to hold on for other related demands, including a law guaranteeing minimum support prices (MSPs).
Farmers at the Ghazipur border (which connects Delhi and Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh) said their protest had grown in strength over the past year, and said they will hold out till their remaining demands are met.
“I left my two children and family behind to come here in November last year. I thought the agitation will go on for two or three years... We will continue to serve here till all our demands are met,” said Pawan Deep Singh, who hails from Bijnor in UP.
Officers of the Ghaziabad police said the Ghazipur protest site saw between 3,000 and 3,500 people on Friday, up many fold from the usual attendance of around 500.
“The numbers don’t matter. At a single call, hundreds of farmers can arrive here from their areas,” said Jagtar Singh Bajwa, an SKM member and spokesperson of the Ghazipur protest site.
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