Slogans, shabads and speeches: Farmers’ protest picks up steam. Will today’s meeting with the govt break the impasse?

The fourth meeting between protesting farmers and the Central government is at present underway. Meanwhile, the mood is revolutionary at Tikri and Singhu on Delhi-Haryana border where thousands of farmers are preparing to stay on. Who will blink first?

Pankaja Srinivasan
| Updated: December 3rd, 2020

Farmers protesting against the three agri laws at Singhu border, Delhi. Photo: Amarjeet Kumar Singh

It is going to be a birthday to remember for Navkiran Natt who turns 29 today. Natt, who has just completed her Masters in Film Studies from Ambedkar University in Delhi, along with a bunch of her friends are in the Metro on their way from Saket in south Delhi, heading to Jahangirpuri, where they will get off the train and board a bus to Singhu border about 50 kilometres away, in the north-west of Delhi.

Singhu is the first village at the entrance to Delhi from Haryana where thousands of farmers are gathered since November 26 in protest against the three new agri laws. Natt and her friends are all students from Ambedkar University, Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia, who are expressing their support to the protesting farmers.

“I am from a farming family from Mansa, Punjab,” said Natt whose parents are presently at the Tikri border while she and her friends take turns visiting the protest sites, helping out at medical camps, doing wall art, talking to the farmers, etc. “We are about 30 members of the All India Students’ Association, who have visited the Ramleela ground, Burari, Singhu border and Tikri border, painting popular slogans, lines from revolutionary poetry, the demands of the farmers… anything that captures the mood,” she told Gaon Connection. All India Students’ Association is a left wing student organisation in India.

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Union Minister Piyush Goyal hold talks with farmer leaders, at Vigyan Bhawan. Photo: Twitter

Meanwhile, in the heart of the national capital, at Vigyan Bhavan, Hall number two has been busy again. The meeting between farmer leaders and the Indian government that began at noon broke for lunch at around 3 pm. The central government, represented by 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 trying to break the stalemate. But nothing concrete has yet come out of the dialogue.

During the lunch break, the farmer leaders refused to accept food from the government and had brought their own lunch. As the drama unfolded, former chief minister Prakash Singh Badal, in solidarity with the farmers’ protests, wrote to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind, declaring his intent to return his Padma Vibhushan award.

Farmers refused lunch offered to them at the Vigyan Bhavan, and ate the food they had packed. Photo: Twitter

The several farmers Gaon Connection spoke to were under no illusion about the outcome of the meeting, they said. “Absolutely nothing is going to happen today,” said Harinder Kaur Bindu, whose mobile phone ring tone is the popular song Hindustan Bol Raha Hai. The farmer who is based in Ramgarh, Firozpur district, Punjab, is part of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, (Ekta Ugrahan), leading its women’s wing. She alleged that the government was only trying to hedge and delay. 

Photo: Harinder Bindu

“No matter what the government wants to talk to us about, we are not going to back down on the demand to take back the agri laws,” Bindu declared. “Whether we are lathi charged, shot at or thrown into jails, we will carry on. We have not come here to go back. But we will keep the channels of communication with the government open,” she said. According to her, farmers of other states are pledging their support to their cause, like those from Odisha and Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. 

Labh Singh another farmer camped at Tikri and from Udaypur village, Jakhal tehsil, Fatehabad district,  told Gaon Connection that the protesting farmers had no immediate plans to return to their villages.  Bindu reiterated that and added that the number of farmers would swell in the next few days. “We have stepped up our call for more farmers to join us here. There will be thousands more joining us. There is already a traffic jam, right up til Rohtak,” Bindu said. 

Photo: Harinder Bindu

Hundreds of langars are serving food to the hungry protestors. Besides freshly cooked food, there is a constant flow of fruits, vegetables, dry fruits, hot tea, milk. “The Bahadurgarh mandi has promised us fresh and free vegetables and fruits for as long as we need them,” said Bindu. She is elated at the kind of support being extended. Even back home, people who could not come for the protest, are looking after their farms. 

Photo: Harinder Bindu

At Singhu, there are gas cylinders, geysers, cow dung cakes, huge vessels and plates and glasses to serve endless hungry mouths. “From generators and inverters to achar martbans (jars of pickles), they have come prepared to stay. The farmers not just feed us, they also insist we take packed food back home,” said Natt.

Photo: By arrangement

“The farmers are in no hurry,” Mukesh Kulriya, student activist, who is studying music in the US and is now in Delhi, pointed out to Gaon Connection. “Starting a movement is not difficult, but sustaining it is,” he said and remarked how the protesting farmers seemed quietly determined. “This is no one day match, it is more a long duration test match,” he commented. 

While the farmers await news of the outcome of today’s meeting at Vigyan Bhavan, Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai, the patriotic urdu poem written by Ram Prasad Bismil as an ode to the Indian freedom fighters in 1921, plays in the background at Tikri. Miles of turbanned farmers sit listening to impassioned speeches, every now and then raising their fists and responding with resounding Inquilaab Zindabad . “Look at all these sardars. Back home they won’t pick up a glass of water for themselves. They are cooking langar here,” she smiled.

With inputs from Amit Pandey.