The farmers’ protest at the Delhi borders is like no other protest. It is not a march where people gather to shout slogans or light candles on a permitted route or open ground. These are not protests where students, activists and artists in cities unite for a cause during the day and go back at night until the next day. These are not protests where an appeal to the media and other citizens is made to strengthen the movement. These are not protests where supporters who cannot join the movement fund those on ground for food and other essentials.
The protests at the borders of Delhi are unprecedented not because they are being led by farmers. The farmers have been voicing their demands for years since the privatisation in the 1990s, with each year pushing them further into poverty.
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The farmers’ protest at the Delhi borders is like no other protest. Thirty two years ago, farmers from Punjab and Haryana marched to the Parliament under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Tikait and sat there for a week before they were shifted to the Red Fort ground. Many significant protests have happened since then, including the Kisan Long March in 2018, wherein over 40,000 farmers walked 180 km over six days to convene at the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha at Mumbai. Each time, the government has made false promises to send back the farmers after a few days.
But this time, the farmers are here not with candles and morchas. They are here in a kafila (convoy). This time they are assiduous in having their demands completely fulfilled, and not just have them shrewdly compromised with. They have set up their homes on the roads that lead to the mighty Capital and have settled there till the three laws are repealed.
The highways that were once a lifeless path to take the rest to the city have turned into a lively settlement where all are served with rice in the afternoons and hot tea with rusk in the evenings. These highways have become 10km-long hamlets of over a lakh cosy tractors where farmers with falling beards sit and sun-bathe on chilly days, chatting with their new farmer friends from their neighbouring district.
Besides them can be seen their grandsons and granddaughters on their tractors with a tiranga tied to one corner. They help carry ration from one place to another and keep the spirit of the farmers alive by playing folk music on their blasting speakers.
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Covered in tarpaulin, inside each tractor, one can find dhaan or paddy straw for mattress, blankets, charging points, books, cartons for tables, photos of Bhagat Singh and Guru Nanak, and everything that a one-room house might have.
Outside each tractor, you may find gas cylinders, choolah, blackened utensils that can cook lunch for over 120 people, cans of oil, boris full of aata (bags full of wheat) and stools on which men and women (mostly men) sit together to shell peas and peel aloos (potatoes). Meanwhile, there are men who lurk around in small garments, shivering after a bath from water geysers (wood-fuelled).
Where there are no tractors, there are libraries, kisan bhavans, rain baseras and hookah baithaks, where farmers from other villages, districts or even states meet over books, food, card games or hookah. These spaces are open not just to the protesting farmers or supporters who visit them; girls and boys from nearby colonies on the highway visit the library every day to scribble on colouring books. Shopkeepers at Tikri sell blankets, chappals and ‘I love kheti’ stickers and posters brought by many. Men and women from localities at Singhu are served breakfast, lunch and dinner in plastic plates, while they offer the farmers washrooms and water at their homes.
These protests are not like any other. These farmers have been protesting at the borders for 88 days, and they have everything aplenty to last them for a year. The produce from their farms is transported every day to the borders on tractors. Members from each family take turns to sit at the protest. They have enough wood waste to keep them warm; they have akhadas with saplings and water sprinklers to keep them cool in the upcoming summers.
They need no one to grieve with them and no one to protest for them, no one to donate to them and no one to teach them the government’s ways.
All they need us to do is hand over the mic as well as the camera.