In the Malwa region of Punjab, villages wear a deserted look as large groups of farmers are in Delhi protesting against the three agri laws. Hundreds of women back in these villages have taken over farming activities, as their menfolk are away in Delhi, they say, ‘fighting’ for their rights.
Beant Kaur of Baras village in Patiala district looking after fields. Photo: By arrangement
Three-hundred-and-fifty kilometres away from the power corridors of Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, where the fifth round of negotiations over the contentious agri laws is at present being held between farmer leaders and the central government, 65-year-old Rajinder Kaur and her daughter-in-law, Taranjeet Kaur, are busier than usual at their six-acre farm in Ghudda village in Punjab’s Bathinda district.
Rajinder’s son Resham Singh left home last week, to join the tens of thousand of farmers in Delhi who are protesting against the agri-bills. So the chores he did of feeding the cattle, milking them, taking care of the calves, etc. have been taken over by his wife and mother. “Although I want all the farmers to return home as soon as possible, they must come back as winners,” Taranjeet told Gaon Connection. “But we are prepared for a long haul if the protest in Delhi lingers on,” the 32-year-old added.
Neighbours have helped both the women with irrigating the recently-sown wheat. Meanwhile, Rajinder managed to spray pesticides on the land with the help of a labourer. “These are desperate times. We all need to stand up,” she said.
As village after village in the Malwa region of Punjab, which comprises 11 districts of Ferozepur, Muktsar, Faridkot, Moga, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Mansa, Sangrur, Patiala, Anandpur Sahib and Fatehgarh Sahib, has joined the protests against the Centre’s three new agri laws, there is an eerie silence and rural women in the state have taken up the cudgels to till and irrigate their lands, look after their cattle and keep the rabi farming activities going in spite of a large chunk of men and youth from the villages away to Delhi to press for repeal of the three laws.
Take the case of Rajinder’s Ghudda village which has a population of about 5,500 people in about 983 households. The men from about 150 of these households are at the protests in Delhi. “In their absence, we make sure that their families and farms get all possible support,” Ashwini Ghudda, a local farmer leader of Nauzwan Bharat Sabha, told Gaon Connection. “Our workers even helped them in cotton harvesting in many fields. The village panchayats are offering all sorts of help to families whose men are in Delhi,” he added.
The mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of the protesting farmers say that they are contributing to the cause by taking care of home and hearth by staying back. “We want our sons and husbands to stay as long as it takes to repeal these black laws passed by the Modi government, while we are strongly staying behind them, praying for their safe return,” Dalip Kaur from Baras in Patiala’s Patran Tehsil, told Gaon Connection. The 60-year-old cuts fodder for the cattle, feeds them and then goes to her land to check on the wheat crop. “What option do I have? All the men in the house have gone to Delhi for the protest. The cattle will go hungry if I don’t work,” she said.
There are hundreds of women like Taranjeet, Rajinder and Dalip Kaur in Punjab who are holding fort at their villages while the rest are away, ‘fighting’.
“The farm bills have attacked the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we all need to put up a strong front till the time these Acts are not repealed,” said Taranjeet.
Meanwhile, far away from the green fields and comfort of their homes, in the harsh metropolis of Delhi, the farmers are struggling to keep their resolve intact in the cold winter days, camping outdoors, sometimes with no access to toilets or running water. There were reports of as many as six farmers dying during the Delhi protest, mostly due to cardiac arrests.
“There is a huge problem at the protest sites, especially of toilets,” Gurpreet Kaur, a young farmer leader from Baras admitted. “But no movement is successful without hardships. Everyone whether in protest or back home has been displaying exemplary conduct,” she added. Gurpreet who has come back to her village to muster more protestors and logistics, will be returning to Delhi with another batch of men and women.
Eighty-year-old Mohinder Kaur of Bathinda’s Bahadurgarh Jandian village, says she still has a lot of fight left in her. She has helped her husband and sons in farming all her life and even now she regularly works on the farm and does whatever she can to take care of it. “If we don’t stand up right now, our future generation will suffer,” Mohinder told Gaon Connection.
There were apprehensions, especially when young people left home to join the protests, said 22-year-old Mandeep Kaur, from Harigarh village in Punjab’s Barnala district, whose young brother has accompanied their father to Delhi. “Many warned us of the dangers involved and advised us not to send him,” said Mandeep who is still worried, as her family was latchicharged and water cannoned and are now braving the winter nights outdoors. “But this agitation is a battle for our survival. Even we will go to Delhi if needed in future,” she declared.
“I will never ask my husband to come back until these laws are taken back by the centre,” Karamjot Kaur, also from Harigarh, told Gaon Connection.
Many young people like Buta Singh of Dhanola in Sangrur district, have stayed back in the villages to help tend to the farms. While Buta is hoping to migrate to Canada and is preparing for the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exams, he said, “But, this can wait for a few days since we must play our part.”
The unprecedented scale of the people’s movement is one of the largest Punjab has seen, said Harjeshwar Pal Singh, assistant professor (history) at the Chandigarh-based Sri Guru Gobind Singh (SGGS) College. “It has revived the bondings within villages and brought together farm organisations despite differences in their ideologies,” he told Gaon Connection.
He dismissed the conspiracy theories doing the rounds that the agitation was politically funded. “Those who understand the Punjabi culture will never make such statements,” he said. “The resources were largely mobilised by people themselves using voluntary contributions and village level donations. The logistical support is being provided by langars and gurudwaras,” he explained.
“We make announcements through the gurdwara public address system and villagers generously come forward and donate supplies that are sent via tractors and trolleys on a daily basis to the Delhi borders,” Sukhwinder Singh, a farm leader from Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Ugrahan from Barnala district, informed Gaon Connection. He said the supplies included milk and cooked food like saag and makki ki roti. The winters were a blessing as the milk and food did not spoil so easily, Sukhwinder said.
“Every day three quintals of milk is dispatched through a private bus operator who runs a free bus service from Dhaula to Delhi,” said Krishan Singh Shanna, from Barnala district. “The milk supply from our district has not stopped ever since protest began in Delhi,” he added proudly.
As the cups of hot tea, and food from home bolster the spirit of the protesting farmers, the meeting is underway at hall number 2, Vigyan Bhavan where Narendra Singh Tomar, Union minister of agriculture and farmer welfare, rural development and panchayat raj, Piyush Goyal, Union railways and commerce minister, and Som Prakash, minister of state for commerce, are negotiating with the farmers. “Today, will be the final battle, one way or another. After this there will be no more conversations,” Rampal Singh, the leader of Kisan Sanyukt Morcha, declared in a statement. And, according to HS Lakhowal, general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Lakhowal), there will be a Bharat Bandh on December 8 if the farm laws are not withdrawn.
Meanwhile, ahead of the 2 pm meeting, Narendra Singh Tomar, Piyush Goyal, Amit Shah, home minister, met Prime Minister Modi to brief him.