The ongoing agitation by the farmers against the controversial farm legislations enacted by the Parliament is having a cascading impact on various sections of the society. After the sportspersons, writers, poets and cultural artists, it is the ex-servicemen who have come out declaring their intent to return various awards and medals that they earned during their careers in the military services.

It is a case of Jawan joining the Kisan for a common cause. The veterans initiative directly counters those who have been trying to belittle the farmers movement, and attacking civil society individuals as the ‘award wapsi’ gang for returning state honours to express support for the protesting farmers.

This move is not confined to just the military veterans from Punjab, They have been joined by ex-servicemen from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Interestingly, most of them offering to return their medals are from the lower ranks of the military services. The question the government needs to answer then is why, why do the former soldiers feel compelled to resort to this unprecedented move?

It is simple. Almost 98% of servicemen from these ranks come from the family of the farmers. They are well aware of the struggle the Indian farmer undergoes to make two ends meet.

“The attitude of the government towards the agitating farmers is unacceptable. There is no excuse to call them names and term them as ‘terrorists’, ‘anti nationals’, those backed by ‘China or Pakistan’. This has hurt even the serving personnel across the rank and file. They will not accept this name calling for their parents back in the villages. Let me make this very clear that the medals a soldier wins is for ‘Desh Seva’ by even sacrificing his life. If he is termed a ‘terrorist’ and an ‘anti national’ then who is a nationalist,” said Naik (Retired) Kapil Dev of Rohtak district in Haryana.

He is an office bearer of the Saabka Sainik Sangharsh Committee that has been fighting for the rights of ex-servicemen for more than a decade. The Committee in a representation to the President of India Ramnath Kovind said, “While the farmers are protesting peacefully in the bitter cold, the union ministers instead of agreeing to their demands are branding them as ‘Khalistanis’ , ‘Congressmen’ or those gone astray and are trying to make a joke out of them. Today the Kisan and Jawan of the country are educated and cannot be misled. Hence, instead of coming out with frivolous statements, the government should repeal these anti farmer laws.”

The representation given to the President further says that the ex-servicemen who have served the country throughout their life have decided to not only return their medals and awards but also support the farmers to protest against the attitude of the government to the genuine demand of the farmers.

“At any given point of time, Punjab and Haryana alone have a strength of no less than three lakh ex-servicemen each who are ready to join the farmers’ movement. We are getting lists and statements of ex-servicemen from districts across the country that are willing to return their medals,” Naik Kapil Dev added.

“It needs to be understood that no political leader sends his children to the military services. It is only the children of farmers who go to defend the frontiers. It is a fact that 98 per cent of the armed forces personnel are from the agrarian background. They are children of farmers or farm labourers. No one would like to sit out in the open in this bitter cold. There are there because of the injustice being meted out to them and on top of that they are being called names,” said ex-serviceman Harbhal Singh of Tarn Taran district of Punjab who had sustained severe injuries in a blast in Kupwara in 2008.

Sources said the ex-servicemen had sought time from the President on December 12 to handover 5000 medals and awards but were denied an audience. The ex-servicemen claim that they were detained twice by the Police.

Meanwhile, those attending the protests at the district level across Punjab and Haryana disclosed that ex-servicemen have been turning up at the protest venues wearing their medals and can be seen announcing their desire to return them. Sources disclosed that the army personnel on leave have been told to keep off the protest sites.

“The government does not have a rational or secular attitude towards the entire issue. It just has a one sided communal view on everything. They have been coming up with a new label for the agitating farmers everyday from ‘terrorist’ to ‘tukde tukde gang’ to those hijacked by ‘Lal Jhanda’ (Left). They are simply not ready to address the real problem. It is not only Faujis but every segment of the population that is siding with the protestors,” said Professor (Retired) Manjeet Singh, an expert on Sociology from Panjab University in Chandigarh.

He said the government needs to understand that Punjab is a border state. The situation today has come to a point of no return where it is the common people who have taken over from the farm leaders. The leaders cannot risk compromising on the issue.

“Had they been wise enough, they could have worked out a solution during the first Punjab Bandh on September 25 and wound things up. The situation right now is such that the more the delay, the more this protest will expand and it will be difficult to address the emerging situation. The agitation is almost six months old with the ordinances having been promulgated in June,” he added.

Besides the ex-servicemen, the rumblings of discontent are being felt in the Police as well. The social media was abuzz with Punjab’s Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) (Prisons) Lakhminder Singh Jakhar decision to resign from his post in support of the agitating farmers on Sunday. He reportedly said, “I am a farmer first and a police officer later. Whatever position I have got today, it is because my father worked as a farmer in the fields and he made me study. Hence, I owe everything to farming.”