They have turned our lives upside down: Singhu village on farm laws, stir
It is a sunny December afternoon and Ramesh Sharma is sitting on a charpoy in the lush green lawn of his house overlooking the wheat fields. One can hear the rousing speeches made by the farmers’ leaders over megaphones at the nearby Singhu border on the national highway.
“You know, these protesting farmers have made our village famous all over the world. But their protests have also disrupted our lives,” he says.
Sharma is a resident of Singhu, the last village before entering Haryana, in north Delhi. It also gave the name to the border, Singhu border, which is one of the major sites for the farmer protests around the Capital against the central government’s new farm laws.
The village is home to about 250 families. Being close to Delhi’s industrial areas such as Narela and Kundli, a rental economy has developed in the village over the years, but more than half of the families depend on agriculture. They mostly grow rice and wheat, which they sell at the Delhi government’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee Mandi (APMC) Mandi in Narela, about five kilometers away. The new farm laws and protests have divided the residents.
Ask Sharma, who has a 2-acre farm, what he thinks of the farmers’ demands and after a long pause, he says: “The farmers should have the right to sell their produce wherever they want. These new laws, in my opinion, will facilitate that.”
As we talk, Satish Kumar Sherawat, another farmer joins in. He tells us that he came straight from the border protest site, about a kilometer from the village.
“I go there every morning for two hours. Their fears are not unfounded. The corporates will first offer a great price for our produce, much more than what government mandis offer. That will lead to mandis becoming irrelevant and then non-existent. Then farmers will be left at the mercy of the big companies,” says Sherawat, who has five acres in the village. “The only solution is that all three farm laws be scrapped.”
So, does the village support the protests with supplies? Sherawat answers with a sheepish smile: “No, they can help us more than we can help them.”
It is the season for the wheat crop and almost all of Singhu village is growing it on hundreds of acres of farmland. On the village’s well-paved roads, snaking through the lush green fields, one sees parali (stubble) -- stalks of the previous season’s paddy pulled out from the ground after harvest -- dumped on the verge at many places. Many farmers in north India resort to burning their stubble to quickly prepare the ground for the wheat crop. This spikes the already high pollution levels in the national capital region (NCR) and the north Indian plains.
But Sharma is quick to point out: “We do not burn it, we sell it to dairy farms in Delhi and NCR, where it is used as animal fodder.” He then points to a dense cluster of low-rise houses in the distance. “That is a Haryana village. Unlike them, we get uninterrupted supply of electricity.”
The Singhu village is also home to a shuttered rice factory, several grain godowns and large milk dairies, run by both villagers and outsiders. With families expanding, land holdings in the village have decreased. Many village youngsters have set up businesses, others have found jobs in the nearby industrial areas. The village is also home to many retired and serving Delhi transport corporation (DTC) employees.
DTC employee and resident Narendra Singh had sold his farmland in the village a few years back. He is fiercely opposed to the farmers’ protest in his village’s vicinity, saying the three-week-old protest had turned their lives upside down.
“There were around five petrol pumps on the highway near our village; all of them are closed because of the protests. The DTC buses do not come any more as the village’s narrow main road is choked with vehicles taking a detour because of the blockade,” says Singh. “Sometimes it takes us two hours to cover a distance of a km from the highway to home during peak hours. Traffic policemen have appeared in our village, which is quite a curious sight.”
Still others, like Satish Kumar, says the new laws miss the nuance. Kumar has rented 27 acres in the village to farm for Rs 12 lakh a year.
More than the APMC mandis, it is the disappearance of the arhtiyas (commission agents) that worries him the most.
“Whenever I need money for agricultural or personal needs, I approach these arhtiyas. They know that I am a farmer and will bring my crop to them, and so they readily give me a loan. Sometimes, I have taken as much as Rs 8 lakh from them to pay the land rent,” says Kumar. And how much does he pay as interest? “About 24 per cent per annum. I know it is high, but the arrangement suits me as I do not have much land of my own it is not easy to get such loans from the bank,” he says.
In another part of the village where multi-storey houses are clustered together, a group of elderly people are busy playing cards. While most support the protesting farmers, calling their worries about the new laws as ‘genuine’, a couple of others are worried about how the protests are going to end.
“I think both the government and the protesting farmers are being unreasonable. Farmers cannot say ‘my way or the highway’. Most of the union leaders, who have been shouting themselves hoarse there do not seem to have read the laws,” says Ran Pal Sherawat, who owns 2.5 acres here.
His elder brother, Om Prakash Sherawat, gets philosophical as he seeks to describe the stalemate. “You must have heard the saying that rulers and children are very difficult to deal with when they get obstinate. Now, we are beginning to get worried how and when these protests will eventually end. Sometimes we fear violence; our relatives keep calling us from all across the country to know if everything is fine in the village,” says Om Prakash. “While we are happy that our village is now famous, we do not want to it to become a site of a violent farmers’ revolution.