The highway blockade has taken the shape of an organised protest with loudspeakers blaring out speeches of union leaders throughout the day
Zafar Aafaq |
SINGHU BORDER (NEW DELHI) — “Modi wants to turn us into slaves of Ambani and Adani,” says Darshan Singh, a farmer from Attari village on the India-Pakistan border in Amritsar, referring to the two business barons’ behemoths whose stranglehold on the Indian market has grown by leaps and bounds since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed power. “This fight is against capitalists and those snatching our rights,” he added.
Darshan is one of tens of thousands of farmers, most of them Sikhs from Punjab, who continued their sit-in on Wednesday on a major highway at the border of India’s national capital New Delhi in protest against new laws regulating sale of their produce.
The new laws were passed by Parliament in September, sparking immediate protests. But, for two months, the farmers staged protests back in their hometowns. However, it failed to put any substantial pressure on the Central government and eventually in late November, leaders of farmers’ unions gave a call for ‘Delhi Chalo’ (march to Delhi).
They hopped on to tractors and trucks and began the march breaking barricades at different places on the highway.
The highway blockade has taken the shape of an organised protest with loudspeakers blaring out speeches of union leaders throughout the day. Besides the farmers’ issues, the speeches also highlight the other “anti-people” policies of the government. Leaders of different unions end their speeches by making passionate calls for unity with strongly-worded slogans often drawn from Sikh scriptures.
With each passing day, the protesters appear to be determined to keep the fight on as long as the “laws are not repealed.”
“We have come here prepared with food and stuff that will last for six months. We are not going anywhere till Modi takes back these laws,” says Darshan Singh.
The new laws allow the farmers to sell their produce to the buyers outside the government-regulated Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) at the Minimum Support Price (MSP). Even as the new laws do not do away with APMCs, the entry of corporates will diminish their significance which has triggered fears of stripping away economic protection that they enjoy amid the agrarian distress. For the first few years, Darshan Singh says, the corporations may offer better prices but “eventually they will buy our grains at low prices citing lack of quality and then sell it at a huge price to people, ” he says. “There is no guarantee we will get basic income.”
“We understand these 3 farm bills better than you (Modi and co),” reads the handwritten poster carried by 26-year-old Simarjeet Singh who is part of the huddle of students who are also part of the protests.
The highway blockade began on November 27, when the police used force against an incoming wave of tractors and trucks to stop the entry of protesting farmers into the national capital.
The farmers’ demand is simple; repeal of the farm Bills which, according to them, are against the interests of farmers.
In response to the intensifying protests, Modi, on Monday, while addressing a public gathering in Varanasi, said that the farm Bills would bring reforms in agriculture and give farmers more options to sell their produce and legal protection against frauds. He dismissed the criticism of the Bills as “misleading”.
But his attempt to allay the concerns has not made any headway.
“We are agriculture students and we are farmers,” says Simarjeet who is pursuing a degree in agriculture at Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana. “We know how bad these laws are for us.”
Gurjot Singh, another student at the protest site, interjects the conversation to have his say on the PM’s statements, “If Modi was concerned about us, then you wouldn’t be seeing farmers protesting at all.”
“Modi Sarkar Murdabad…take back the black laws.” the huddle shouts in unison. “Down with Modi government…take back the black laws.”
Modi’s remark that the protesters are being “misled” has further angered the farmers. Jaspal Singh, who has come from a village in Punjab’s Samrala district, says that hundreds of thousands of farmers are protesting and “all of us cannot be fools to be misled”.
The farmers are also unhappy with the way the national media has linked their protests with the Khalistan movement.
“We are not terrorists; we are farmers demanding our rights,” says Gurjot singh. “The media is defaming us. You can go around and see if we carry any weapons. This is all a lie.
“Farmers are as patriotic as soldiers. The soldier defends the nation, the farmer feeds the nation.”