While protesters wait for the farm laws to be repealed in Parliament, everyone at the Singhu border echoes one sentiment: That they will remember this one year spent in protest till their dying day.
Nitin Kumar reports.
From the 1984 anti-Sikh riots to the agitation at Delhi’s Singhu border against the controversial farm laws, Jasbir Kaur has seen a great deal.
She was 39 when the riots broke out in the national capital in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Thirty-six years later, images of the passionate protests against the three farm laws and the pushback they invited brought back the trauma and had her heading to the protest site on the Delhi-Haryana border.
“I watched the police beating our kids on TV. Two of my brothers were also at Singhu since November 26 (2020),” says the septuagenarian who has been stationed at Singhu since December 10 last year.
She spends her days cleaning the stage of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a coalition of over 40 farmers’ unions, serving langar (community meals) and doing sankirtan (community prayers).
Though she missed home initially, Kaur says she has made many friends among her fellow protesters.
It was they who tended to her when she had a cardiac arrest earlier this year.
After regaining consciousness, she says the first words she uttered were: "Mainu Singhu jana hai. Tussi mainu Singhu le chalo ya mein appe chali jawaan? (I want to go to Singhu. Will you take me there or should I go on my own?)."
No sooner was she fit to travel than she took a bus from the hospital in Rohtak, where she was admitted, to the Singhu border.
On November 19, her granddaughter called her and said, "Modi taan mann gaya; tussi kaddo manana? (Modi has agreed; when will you agree?).” “And I replied, ‘I won’t go back until these laws are repealed in Parliament’,” Kaur says, grinning.
It’s not just protesters like Kaur who are happy with the government’s decision. The locals, too, are relieved that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given in to the farmers’ demands.
Rajesh Kumar, a resident of Singhu, says the protest site represents sacrifice and honour.
“It has been a surreal experience to see thousands of people eating together for a year now. The farmers’ struggle and victory prove that if your intentions are pure, you will triumph,” he says.
The langars have played a crucial role in the protests at Singhu.
As the resistance took hold, food for the protesters became an immediate requirement.
That’s when thousands of people stepped forward to prepare meals for those camped here.
Among them was Sardar Santop Singh from Kurukshetra.
He remembers how he made bread pakora for the protesters the first time in November last year.
“It seems I came here only yesterday. My langar serves snacks 24x7 and meals twice a day,” he says. “This protest has encouraged me to fight not only for myself but for a larger cause.”
He adds that had the government not agreed to repeal these laws, “We would have continued the protest till 2024”.
For Gurpreet Kaur, a student of Delhi University who has participated in the agitation from the outset, Singhu is not just a protest site.
She says for her it has also been a training centre, one where she has learnt to “voice her opinions and fight for justice. However, the journey hasn’t been a cakewalk.”
Kaur, who is in the final year of her graduation course, says, “I hope I will now be able to go back home and focus on my studies.”
A group of Nihang Sikhs who came to Singhu to support the farmers is also overjoyed that the prime minister has promised to repeal the farm laws.
Says Joga Singh, a 72-year-old Nihang Sikh from Amritsar, “We are sitting here because of God’s will. No one called us. We came here on our own accord.”
Joga Singh is convinced the decision is driven by political compulsion.
Referring to the upcoming assembly elections in states like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, he says, “Elections aa rahe hain, iss liye sarkar ne yeh kanoon radd karne ka faisla liya hai (Elections are coming up and that’s why the government has decided to scrap these laws).”
For Ram Singh, an 80-year-old farmer from Haryana, the protest has also given him the added gift of benevolence towards his fellow farmers in Punjab.
“We will bid farewell to our brothers from Punjab by showering flower petals on them. We have been fed lies that our Punjabi brothers are not giving us our share of water. But now we understand that this was a political agenda,” he says.
The one year of farmers’ agitation has seen many protesters quit their jobs or switch professions.
Charan Singh, a bus driver from Ludhiana, left his job and came to Singhu last year after seeing farmers being roughed up and sprayed with water cannons. And he says he has no plans to leave the site anytime soon.
“I will leave Singhu only after getting an assurance of MSP (minimum support price) guarantee, jobs for a family member of each deceased farmer, justice in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, and the withdrawal of cases against farmers,” he says.
While they wait for the laws to be repealed in Parliament, everyone at the site echoes one sentiment: That they will remember this one year spent in protest at Singhu till their dying day.