Farmers Warn Govt, Protests Escalate
On August 22 "non-political" farmer unions held a protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar.
"The government promised us that all our demands would be met, and it was on this promise we farmers ended our protest. But not even one demand has been met and on top of that the discussion on Minimum Selling Point (MSP) has not even started," said Gurinder Singh, a farmer from Punjab's Amritsar.
Despite the Central government bowing to the demands of farmers to repeal farm laws and other major demands, there is a wave of disappointment among them. In late November 2021, the Narendra Modi government finally repealed the three Farm Bills. A Bill to cancel the reforms was officially passed in Parliament on November 30.
However, it was on December 11, 2021 that the farmers would finally go back. The farmer unions took the decision after the government agreed to discuss their other demands, including guaranteed prices for produce and a withdrawal of criminal cases against protesting farmers.
The decision was met with celebrations all over the country, but especially in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Farmers danced, hugged and remembered the initial days of the protest when they witnessed harsh winters, heavy rains and screeching hot summers.
Besides repealing the three farm Laws, the government also agreed to provide compensation to the families of the farmers who died during the protest. The compensation also includes the victims of Lakhimpur Kheri incident, who were mowed down and killed by a convoy of SUVs including one that is owned by Union Minister Ajay Mishra. Eight people were killed.
Ashish Mishra, the Union Minister's son is also one of the accused in the chargesheet. The Uttar Pradesh Police filed a first information report (FIR) naming Ashish Mishra and 12 others as murder accused the next day, but it took them a week and the Supreme Court's intervention to arrest the Union Minister's son.
Soon after four farmers and a journalist were run over, allegedly by an SUV driven by Ashish Mishra, violence broke out in which three more, including two BJP workers, were killed. Four more people, who were also part of the farmers protest, were also arrested.
One of them is 23-year-old Gurwinder Singh. Singh was arrested in October last year and is still waiting for the start of his trial. Speaking to The Citizen Nirway Singh, Gurwinder Singh's brother said that since the arrest there has been no hearing of the case. "It was an action-reaction situation. When violence happened, my brother was just ahead in the crowd and this is how he was targeted," Singh said. Since his arrest, even the hearing of Gurwinder Singh bail application has not been held.
On August 22, this year, "non-political" farmer unions led by Jagjit Singh Dalewal held a protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar, warning the government that if it does not comply with their demands the protest will revive. Speaking to The Citizen Dalewal said, "For 13 months, the farmers kept sitting in protest at the borders of Delhi demanding the repeal of laws and MSP. We have come here again just to remind the government to comply with those demands."
He also said that they are also demanding the release of Lakhimpur incident prisoners. "They have put farmers in jail for the Lakhimpur matter and the real accused are roaming free," he added.
Nirway Singh, who is two years older than Gurwinder, meanwhile, said that the revival of the protest would come later. However, the authorities not paying any heed to his brother and other three farmers is more worrying, he added.
"Our farm is in loss, my brother and I were working together to support our family. Now, the whole burden has come upon me, and with him gone for so long, we are just getting tense. We were promised that he will not be charged with anything, but the authorities lied to us and slapped him with Section 302," he said. Section 302 of Indian Penal Code intents punishment for murder.
While the government still has not responded to the farm leaders, including Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a coalition of over 40 Indian farmers' unions, established during the start of the protest, families who lost their loved ones in the protest still struggle. From Haryana to Punjab, families are still suffering and reeling over the loss of their loved ones. More than 750 farmers died during the protest, according to the data collected by SKM.
At a small house in Kotla Mehar Singh Wala village located at Punjab's Moga District is a grieving mother. Gurdeep Kaur lost her son Jagdev Singh Jagga, during the farmer's protest. The loss of her son has left her in mourning and physically weak.
"I feel very sad that I lost my son. He was a good child and without him I feel like my life has no meaning," she said as few tears tickle down her wrinkled face. Wiping the tears off she said that she was still proud as her son was martyred during the protest.
Jagga's younger brother Paramjit Singh is now taking care of the whole family alone. Having sold off their land due to debt, the family's only income is through the cattle that they take care of in a small shed at their house.
According to Pradhan Surjeet Singh, Pradhan of the village, with whom Jagga went to protest, Jagga fell ill at the border due to the cold weather. "The doctors there gave him some medicine. But there was no improvement after which a doctor was consulted who asked us to take him back to the village. His blood pressure went down, and he died," said Singh. Jagga was part of the protest from November 26, 2020. "We just want the Central government to provide help to such families of the farmers," added Singh.
In another part of the Moga district lives Karamjeet Kaur. Kaur had lost her husband, who was part of the farmers' protest from the beginning. Jagroop Singh, 50, was protesting at the Toll Plaza near Dholewala village in Punjab's Moga District. On November 3, 2020 when the protest was already in full swing in various districts and villages of Punjab, Singh, who was a tailor, joined the protest site at Toll Plaza and took over the functioning there. Singh had a heart attack at the protest site.
"Although he was a tailor, he firmly believed that the farm laws are bad for not only farmers but us as well. He said that we will also die of hunger because the farmers will be struggling. He stood with the farmers until the very end. He was part of the protest from the very beginning," Kaur said with tears streaming down her face. While the Punjab government has compensated the families of farmers who died during the protest, there is no word from the Central government.
However, in Haryana, for the families of farmers who died at the protest, the future is bleak. Mukesh, young mother of a teenager, sits in her house surrounded by many people who have come to console her. She is crying as her son watches on emotionally, trying to hold her hand. Mukesh's husband Raldu Ram who was a farmer in Hansedar village at Haryana's Jind District died on August 5, 2021 when he was on his way to the farmers protest at Tikri Border.
Ram left behind a young wife and a child who was studying in class 12, his family has fallen apart. Mukesh who could not stop her tears said that she is angry with the government for bringing the laws into existence. "If this government had not brought out these laws, then my husband would have been alive. He would not have died. He used to say that they need to fight this war against these three laws that were introduced by the government and that they need to be repealed. He used to say that he won't come back until the laws are repealed, if it means he dies so be it. And that only happened."
On August 5, Mukesh had left for Tikri Border along with other villagers, he had just come home two days back but left again. He had a heart attack along the way and died instantly. "He was so involved in the protest that he used to leave his food while eating and run whenever needed him for any kind of arrangement. He wanted to be a part of the protest," recalled Mukesh.
Trying to control her emotions, Mukesh said that while so many farmers have finally reunited with their loved ones, so many lost their lives. She added that she will always be proud of her husband, but wished he would still be alive. "I am proud of him that he was part of this huge protest and that he was martyred here. I just pray for his soul to rest in peace. The unions at the village have helped me a little bit but there has been no help from either the state government or the SKM," she added.
Life has been difficult for both Mukesh and her son as they try to move on from the shock that took away so much from the family. "All my hopes are dead and livelihood is also difficult, as he was the only earning member in the family. If the government had not brought these black laws, then my husband and other farmers would not have been sitting there on these roads. So many people lost their lives. My child has no father now and nothing is going to bring him back," she said.
Revival Call at Jantar Mantar
The Jantar Mantar protest witnessed thousands of farmers joining in, and while the SKM denied any involvement with the protest, the members were glad that the step was taken.
Speaking to The Citizen, Anuroop Sandhu, who has been part of the protest from the beginning and was fielded from Muktsar from Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM), the political front of the farmers' unions, said that the protest never ended, but was suspended.
"We kept on telling people after the farmers protest was suspended, that it is suspended, it's still not ended. And it was suspended on three to five- point memorandum between the government as well as the farmers unions. But if the government is not respecting those treaties, those are things that they have actually agreed upon to suspend the process, then one can start this protest any time," she said. She added that if the government is still hellbent on not complying with the demands, "then obviously the only thing we can do is come out on the streets."
"We can expect our lawmakers who people have elected, especially now in Punjab, to come on the roads for us. If they don't, then we will go. I don't think that it is only farmers unions' agenda right now, I think it should be every Punjabis agenda that whosoever has lost their lives in this particular protest, and other farmers as well, should get compensation and this is one thing that I have been pressing upon," Sandhu added.
Sandhu had started a blog during the farmers protest, which mentioned the death of every farmer during the protest. The blog went viral and garnered a lot of attention, making her a major part of the protest. "The kind of incidents where, directly somebody has been killed on mowed down on their path, these are murders, these require criminal investigation," she said, speaking about Lakhimpur case.
She added that if those things are not being investigated, then it raises questions on the entire criminal justice system. "If this government goes on with this kind of an attitude, it is bad for the government itself, because people will not have faith in them," Sandhu said.
Meanwhile, farmers blocked National Highway-44 that connects Delhi to Chandigarh at Shahabad in Kurukshetra district on Friday in support of their demand of advancing the procurement of parmal rice varieties. Haryana Bhartiya Kisan Union (Charuni) president Gurnam Singh Charuni had given the call and threatened to block NH 44 near Shahbad if the government did not start paddy procurement from September 22.
"We cannot wait more as thousands of farmers are already camping in the mandis (grain markets) with their produce for the past couple of days but the government is not ready to start procurement. We are left with no other option but to block the highway," Charuni said, addressing the farmers after the meeting.
He said that the blockade will continue until the government announces a schedule for the procurement. Despite heavy police deployment, the protesting farmers removed barricades with their tractors and blocked the highway.
The farmers are also demanding an increase in the per acre yield ceiling from 22 quintals to 35 quintals. Charuni said that the blockade will continue until they force the government to start procurement immediately.
Meanwhile, no discussion has taken place on MSP, as promised by the government, protesting farmers had said. The government had promised to form a committee which will include representatives from the federal and state governments, agriculture scientists and farmer groups on the matter of MSP.
The protests first gained momentum in November last year when farmers tried to march into Delhi but were stopped by police at the city's borders. Post that they have protested at the border of Delhi for the next 13 months.
Cover Photograph - Files