Sombre Gurpurab as farmers wait at Capital’s borders
If they were in their villages on Guru Nanak Jayanti on Monday, the Sikh farmers protesting against new farm laws at Delhi’s borders would have begun the day by wearing new clothes, visiting the local Gurdwara, reading the holy scripture, organising a langar (community kitchen) and ended the festive day by lighting lamps.
At the protest sites, however, the farmers could perform only a few of these rituals and in a very limited way -- some couldn’t even find water to bathe -- but that did little to dampen their mood. A few actually managed to visit a Gurdwara.
“Yes, we missed the nagar kirtan (processional singing of hymns), during which we would travel around our villages with the Guru Granth Sahib decked nicely on a vehicle ahead of us. But there we would have celebrated it only with a few hundred other villagers. Here, we have the entire Punjab and people from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for company,” Jagtar Singh, a Patiala farmer camping at Delhi’s Singhu Border, said, summing up the general mood.
In the morning, at Singhu and Tikri borders, the farmers either stood in large groups or sat in their tractors and trolleys to do paath (reading of the holy text). That was followed by the distribution of prashad, and then a langar was organised even as a holy discourse was broadcast on loudspeakers.
“If we were back home, we would have had a sumptuous langar comprising of kheer, pakode, many varieties of sweets, and other dishes,” said Shamsher Singh, a farmer from Amritsar. At the two border points, however, the langar had fewer options with the menu consisting of rice, roti, dal, vegetable and halwa.
There are two Gurdwaras close to the Singhu border on the Delhi side. A few farmers who entered Delhi via internal roads also made it to the Gurdwaras.
“I haven’t missed a Gurdwara visit on this day ever since I was a child. I didn’t miss it this time either,” said Jasjeet Singh, a farmer from Faridkot, who took a bath, offered prayers and ate at the langar of the Dera Sant Baba Resham Singh Ji Gurdwara, about two kilometres from the Singhu border.
The Gurdwara authorities chose to downplay visits by the protesting farmer, lest they draw unnecessary attention. “There were many devotees we have never seen before, but we don’t ask questions of anyone visiting this Gurdwara,” said an official who didn’t reveal his identity.
The Sikh farmers at the Tikri Border weren’t lucky enough to find a Gurdwara in close proximity.
Farmers assembled at the Burari ground too had to be content with limited celebrations at the venue although they danced and sang together to celebrate the festive day. “We didn’t have the Guru Granth Saahib with us, but we found new people to celebrate the festival with,” said Jasvinder Singh, a farmer from Lakhimpur Kheri in UP.
Many Sikh farmers said they had woken up on the festive day by 4-5 am to bathe and wear fresh clothes.
“Our Diwali and Dussehra, too, was lost in the protests. So we were not very optimistic about celebrating Guru Nanak Jayanti with our families. But I had kept aside a pair of clean clothes for the day,” said Inderjeet Singh, a farmer from Tarn Taran.
While farmers at the Singhu border had sufficient water to bathe, many at the Tikri border struggled to find water. Jasjeet Singh, a farmer from Faridkot, said that he decided to give the prayers a miss as he hadn’t taken a bath or changed his clothes for the past week.
“But we’ll light lamps along the police barricades and outside our trucks at night. We’ll also light our vehicle headlamps and indicators at night to celebrate the festival,” he said.
Sikhs in Delhi and Haryana brought milk, fresh fruits and even lamps and battery-operated lights for the farmers. “This time I have decided to celebrate the festival with my farmer brothers,” said Jagtar Singh, a Sikh businessman from Rohini in Delhi.
Farmers said they missed being with their families on the festive occasion, but it was a small sacrifice, given the task ahead of them. “I have asked my wife to light an extra lamp on my behalf. She has asked me not to return until our demands are fulfilled. We’ll celebrate the festival again when we return home victorious,” said another farmer, Hardeep Singh, from Ludhiana.
At the Singhu border, farmers even walked up to police personnel to offer them prashad even as the police continued to maintain physical distance because of the pandemic.
“We may be on the other side of the barricades, but we are not enemies. So, we accepted the prashad and wished them,” said a policeman who didn’t want to be identified.
Gaurav Sharma, deputy commissioner of police (outer-north), did not comment on the limited interaction between the Sikh farmers and the police personnel. “I wish them on the festival and urge them to proceed to the Burari ground to carry on their protest peacefully,” Sharma said.