This is a blog post reflecting upon the last year of protesting by farmers in India. It is written by our sevadar Jajhar Singh. Since writing the article the 3 farm laws have been repealed in both the Lok and Raj Sabha and just need the presidents signature for final approval.
Friday 26th November 2021 marked the first anniversary of Farmers protesting on the borders of Delhi. The protests has been going on for longer than that because they started in September 2020 locally throughout Punjab and Haryana. The protest were over 3 farming laws passed in Parliament which favoured corporate farmers and have a detrimental effect on individual farmers who are already struggling.
We have of course since heard the announcement from Indian Prime MInister Modi that the 3 laws will be taken back which was announced on the 552nd Gurpurab of Dhan Dhan Guru Nanak Dev Ji Maharaj. This is obviously great news but needs to be met with a great deal of cynicism. It is only valid when it goes through Parliament which is due to happen at the end of the month. Thankfully the farmers will not stop protesting just yet. Even beyond the announcement and it going through parliament, Farmers will remain on the borders to fight for the following:
- A minimum Price for Crops across all of India
- Withdrawal of a draft Electricity Act Amendment Bill
- Removal of Provisions of punishments to farmers in the Commission for Air Quality Management Act
- Withdrawal of cases against farmers booked during this protest.
- Ajay Mishra Teni to be sacked and arrested
- Compensation and Rehabilitation for the families of 700 farmers who have paid with their lives and a memorial at the site of the protest.
This makes it the biggest protest in History. The protest is very close to my heart as I am from a farming heritage family from Punjab. Before the protest started, the viewpoint that I had of Punjab in recent times was a rather negative one. I have travelled to Punjab several times in my life and very recently as February 2020 and I can honestly say that there is no other place in the world like it. Punjab is just so unique and different. It has its own character which let us be honest it is not a surprise because after all it is the land of the Sikh Guru’s as well as other poets, revolutionaries and rebels. The recent negative viewpoint has come about due to the increase in drugs and alcohol usage which unfortunately is systematically being fed into the streets of the villages and cities of Punjab by authorities so that the people remain in their slumber. The continuous beadbhi (desecration) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji continued to hurt sentiments which again is also systematic to change focus of another controversy going on at that time. There is a complete disregard from Sikhi in Punjab as well. People are moving away from their Sikh Roots and therefore losing that spirit of Rebellion and Revolution.
However when the bills were passed and people realised what this meant for the livelihoods going forward they all woke up from their slumber. This included farmers and labourers alike hence coining the term #KisaanMajdoorEktaZindabad. All of a sudden even all the Singers stopped their songs about Alcohol, Materialism, Gangster Violence, Misogyny and Patriarchy. They started to sing about farmers and what Rebels and Revolutionaries like Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh and Kartar Singh Sarabha had done in their times. Unfortunately it’s said to say that they have gone back to their old ways again.
At this time all of a sudden inspired by Singer Kanwar Garewal, Actor Deep Sidhu, and activist Lakha Sadhana as well as various Union Groups people started to make their way towards Delhi. There was such a strong feeling against these laws. The government did all it can to stop them on their way by putting in place Road Blocks and Water Canons. The following video resonates with me as it could easily have been from the times of our Guru’s or during the British Raj, but no, it happened in 2020.
Protestors knew that they may not come back alive but that didn’t faze them as they were inspired by Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and the Chaar Sahibzaade.
Historically there has been somewhat of a rivalry between the two neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Even during the 1984 Delhi Riots busloads of men came from Haryana on a killing spree. The government thought that people from Haryana would play their part in blocking Punjabis travelling to Delhi but the opposite happened. Punjab and Haryana united to travel to Delhi together as Haryana has a dominant farming community too. Haryana was actually a part of Punjab before 1966 and have ever since shared a capital city of Chandigarh which causes issues with law making for the region. After partition in 1947 Punjab was split further in 1958 to create Himachal Pardes. On both occasions a propaganda campaign was carried out telling people to put their mother tongue down as Hindi rather than Punjabi.
The procession from Punjab and Haryana ended up at Singhu border and Tikri border. Protesters from other parts of India landed on various borders of Delhi City. Today the other border of note for a protesting site is Ghazipur border. Upon settling at Singhu and Tikri border saw a community being established. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji was present and every feasible service became available due to various NGO’s such as Hemkunt Foundation, Khalsa Aid and Walsall’s very own Midland Langar Seva Society. A library was established as well as a Laundry service amongst others. All of a sudden the destitute community of the area had access to food which was different each day. There are accounts of these very people who have said that they have never ever tasted food like this before. Mini schools were setup for these people as well.
In the initial weeks of the protest in Delhi, Union leaders were meeting regularly with government officials namely Narendra Tomar who is the Farming and Agriculture minister. It became apparent quite quickly that government officials employed a tactic by dragging their feet by continuously going out of the meeting to take phone calls. They had no interest in negotiating and were only looking at ways to end the protest behind the scenes.
A pivotal moment in the protest came on 26th January when a Tractor Rally was organised to enter Delhi City. A lot of toing and froing took place with Delhi Police in terms of agreeing a route. A route was eventually agreed and was due to go ahead. On the day itself, the police blocked off the agreed route and told protesters to take another route. As a result of this a number of farmers marched towards the Red Fort. The Red Fort was surrounded by police but no efforts were being made to block protesters in entering the Red Fort. A NIshaan Sahib was hoisted on top of the Red Fort which was a huge symbolic victory for Farmers. However godi (sensationalist and biased) media falsely reported that the Tiranga had been removed and replaced with the NIshaan Sahib. Godi media tried to set a Khalistan narrative so that the protest would be undermined. The government took advantage of this and sent goons to the protest site to cause havoc by dispersing the protesters. We saw a number of farmers arrested who were around Red Fort and the cold blooded murder of farmer Navneet Singh as he was driving his tractor. The BJP goons that came to take over the protesting sites were aided and protected by Delhi Police. Ranjeet Singh from Sri Bhagat Singh Nagar was beaten up by the police and goons as he tried to protect the accommodation of protesting females. He was subsequently arrested but released with the aid of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) and its legal team.
The incident at Red Fort split opinion within the Sikh Community in India and in the west. The Older generations genuinely thought it was game over and the Indian government had won. They have achieved what they set out to do which was to disrupt the protest and we again have fallen for it hook line and sinker. The younger generation felt it was a symbolic victory. It bought about the historical days of Nawaab Kapur Singh who took over Delhi and also hoisted a NIshaan Sahib at the Red Fort.
The protest started again after the events of Republic Day with a core number of protesters mainly elderly people remained on the protest sites. The Union Leaders regrouped partly thanks to the influential figure Rakesh Tikait who himself is a Union Leader. Godi media continued its campaign of false information and propaganda stating that the protest has lost momentum and people were returning home but in actual fact, other than the core protestors there was a rotation of people coming and going as they tried to manage their daily lives and responsibility alongside the protest. People continued to protest locally as well. Even people who are not farmers such as shop keepers who rely on the income of farmers also joined the local protests as well as the main protests in the capital city.
Attempts by the Indian Government and godi media continued by running narratives such as the Farmers Protest being the source of a super spreader of Covid when India had to go into a second lockdown due to a sudden increase in Covid cases. However in actual fact, it was the NGO’s on the ground at the protests that mobilised to offer oxygen tanks for free for those who were suffering from Covid. There was a black market for these yet the Sikhs were handing them out for free with help from diaspora.
The government started to target individuals by arresting whoever raised awareness of the protest. Disha Ravi was arrested for creating a so called toolkit. Greta Thunburg and Rihanna amplified the message of the farmers protest with a response from the Indian celebrity circuit claiming that it was an internal matter and had nothing to do with Rihanna or Greta Thunburg. Another notable arrest was that of Nodeep Kaur who used to protest to raise issues regarding Dalit rights and workers’ rights as well.
Even higher up in the government at the minister level the government were desperate to dampen down the protest going as far as using heavy handed tactics. Both Haryana and UP states are BJP heartlands and both their respective Chief Ministers went on record to say they were happy for the police to do whatever it takes to deal with protesters. In UP, Lakhimpur Kheri the son of the Chief Minister took things into his own hands by mowing down protesters with his own car. Godi media continued to oblige the agenda and report that protestors burned the cars in the incident. In total circa 700 people have lost their lives due to the farmer’s protests in the past year.
A common tactic employed by the indian government when they are dealing with controversy is to divert attention by doing beadbhi of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Soon after the Lakhimpur incident there were 3 incidents of beadbhi. The first was a man smoking during Parkash of Sri Guru Granth Sahib at Takht Keshgarh Sahib. No one reacted to this incident to the sheer audacity of it. A Second incident took place in a village in Punjab and the final incident took place soon after at Singhu Border. This time however the culprit was caught by Nihang Singhs and was dealt with by chopping off his limbs. The Intel that they obtained from the individual was that they were paid 30,000 rupees each and there were 20 of them on the Singhu Border site. His family confirmed that he was indeed a drug addict and they were surprised that he was going to the protest considering that he never in his life ventured outside his home village. The culprit subsequently died from his injuries and his family was compensated.
Since the announcement from Modi on Gurpurab the cabinet has been authorised to repeal the 3 laws in Parliament later on in the month. Further indication that this is not just a publicity stunt and God willing the process will go through to the end.
We have also seen today on the first anniversary of the protest people returning to the protest sites to mark the anniversary and to add volume to the continued fight towards the 6 points stated above.
The protest is just one battle of an ongoing war between Sikhs and the indian government since 1947. I hope that this win can provide momentum and organisation to raise issues such as the SYL canal and the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. The protest has certainly highlighted to people living in india and the Diaspora that we continue to be treated unfairly and the powers that be may it be Badal Dal or Captain Amrinder are just puppets of central government and they are just filling up their own pockets. I hope that there is a rethink on the ground level when the next elections come up. Deep Sidhu’s establishment of ‘Waris Punjab De’ none political organisation set up to hold people accountable is certainly a step in the right direction albeit a small one.
Credits for art image to Creations_kaur on instagram.