THE venues of the farmers’ agitation around the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi have witnessed unique forms of solidarity and camaraderie among different segments of society since the last week of November 2020. Some of the constant features at the agitation points include doctors and nurses from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other States providing regular medical care, caterers and housewives putting in place community kitchens, and artists and cultural activists staging performances to boost the morale of the farmers.
In the many villages in Punjab from where the farmers travelled to Delhi to join the protests against the new farm Acts, the scenes are more heart-warming. Farmers who stayed back to tend to the farms and fields have displayed a spirit of good neighbourliness and brotherhood. They are volunteering to sustain the farming activities of those who have gone to Delhi for the agitation. Lakhvir Singh, a young farmer of Badhni Kalan village in Moga district of Punjab, told Frontline in a videocall: “Our brothers have moved to Delhi for a long struggle. Even as they were preparing for the journey, collecting provisions and other essentials to last several months, we decided that their farming activity should not suffer in their absence. So, we are all collectively carrying out the farming activities in their plots exactly as they would have done if they were here.”. Lakhvir himself is looking after the farming activities of three farmers who have gone to Delhi.
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Various grains and vegetables are cultivated in over 6,900 acres (2,760 hectares) at Badhni Kalan. Village elders Iqbal Singh and Deba Singh said the arrangement of standing in for those who had gone to Delhi and fulfilling their farming roles had become a well-oiled system in the past month with regular checks and balances in place. Apart from cultivation, the farmers also share the job of cattle rearing. Iqbal Singh and another villager elder, Hariraj, play a major role in coordinating farming and other agriculture-related activities. Iqbal Singh said he was personally looking after 70 cattle of farmers who had gone to Delhi. He said that they have initiated “a system of rotation of farmers whereby those who stayed for more than 10 days at the Delhi agitation point would return to the village and a fresh team of protesters would go from the village to Delhi in their place.” Apart from those who do the 10-day stint at the agitation points, small groups normally consisting of 50 to 100 people, including women, make short trips to the agitation points, which are approximately 400 kilometres from the village.
There are reports about initiatives similar to the ones in Badhni Kalan from all the districts of Punjab. Nirmal Singh, a farmer from Badhni Kalan, told Frontline that the farming activities taken up to support the agitating farmers were in themselves a form of struggle and a show of unity. He said: “Some local TV channels and newspapers have reported this briefly, but this is a movement, the message of which should be spread far and wide. The associate farmers are not affected even by extreme weather conditions like cold and fog in their enthusiasm to complete the tasks of the agitating farmers.” Nirmal Singh has taken over the responsibility of tending the farms of two farmers who are in Delhi. He said his friends and relatives in Amritsar, Jalandar and Ludhiana informed him that this initiative of standing in for the agitating farmers had caught on across the State.
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Colonel (retired) Baljeet Singh Dhariwal, a native of Badhni Kalan, told Frontline that it was just one of the many villages across Punjab where the new brotherhood in the agrarian community had taken root in the context of the agitation. “A sense of righteousness is the core on which this unity is built. That, coupled with the sense of betrayal and hurt caused by the Central government’s actions, has created a robust determination to fight. That is what we are witnessing in large parts of Punjab.” Dhariwal said previous interventions of farmers’ unions at the local level had contributed in a big way in building this unity.
Products of past struggles
Farmers such as Jagjit Singh, a prominent activist from Badhni Kalan in the Delhi farmers agitation and the coordination of farming activities initiated at Badhni Kalan are products of these past struggles. An anti-social ‘godman’ with political connections had forcibly occupied Jagjit Singh’s land but a sustained agitation by the farmers’ union at the local level forced him to return the land. Dhariwal said: “What we are seeing now in the Delhi agitations and in the brotherhood in farming activities at the village level is the product of a long-standing and productive association between individual farmers and their unions. It is a relationship that has flourished on trust and conviction and not a product of ill-conceived and misleading propaganda as suggested by some vested interests.”
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Colonel (retired) Subhash Chandra Deswal, now a progressive farmer based in Sikandrabad of Bulundshahar district in western Uttar Pradesh, told Frontline that the brotherhood in farming activities being seen across Punjab revived memories of the struggle for Independence among many elders in various parts of northern India. “During the freedom struggle too, this type of sharing was recorded in farming activities. The farming work of those who moved away from the villages to play active roles in the freedom struggle was taken up and completed by others in the village, fully internalising the spirit of the liberation movement. It would be difficult for any apparatus of the state to counter this kind of emotive coming together of people.”
As things stand now, this agrarian brotherhood is essentially a Punjab-centric phenomenon. However, indications are that this will catch up in other parts of the country, too, especially Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. Representatives of about 10 khaps (community organisations representing clans or groups of related clans, especially among north Indian farming communities such as Jats) of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh came together for a sarv khap mahapanchayat at one of the Delhi agitation points in the third week of December. The Punjab brotherhood experience was reportedly discussed here. The mahapanchayat has decided to launch a jan jagran abhiyan (people’s awareness campaign) across thousands of villages about the repressive farm laws. khap leaders such as Sudhir Chaudhary are apparently of the view that the Punjab initiative must be replicated in other parts of the country, too. Clearly, the idea of brotherhood in farming activities is spreading and this is bound to enhance the cohesion and resolve among the agitating farmers.