On 8 December, Suman Malik, a retired engineer, was at the Singhu border between Haryana and Delhi in support of the ongoing farmers’ protest. He is in his seventies with acute breathing issues. Since the imposition of the COVID-19 induced lockdown, he had kept himself confined at home. But after the farmers’ agitation began, he felt compelled to join the protest. Malik drove about thirty-five kilometres from southwest Delhi to the Singhu border. I asked Malik why he risked his health. “I was hurt by the inclination of the government as well as a large section of the media to label the protesting farmers as Khalistani and politically motivated,” he said. “The approach of the government, treating the farmers as if they are from some other land has caused me extreme pain. So I decided to join the gathering of the farmers and increase their number by one with my presence.”
Ramesh Mumukshu, a chronic patient of asthma from Uttarakhand, who is in his late fifties, was also at the Singhu border on 8 December. Mumukshu is the president of the Uttarakhand centre of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, an organisation that aims to create an environment for study and research on Gandhi’s teaching and practice. “I came here to be one amongst the agitating farmers,” he told me. “They have been living in a vulnerable condition especially in Uttarakhand where basic facilities are lacking and natural water resources are depleting rapidly. It’s not possible for a farmer to earn a livelihood and depend solely on agriculture in such a pathetic condition. Though I am an asthma patient from my childhood, yet I could not resist coming here and adding my voice with those who are fighting for future generations. They are agitating with full determination to win.”
Since 26 November, thousands of farmers, primarily from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting against three recently enacted and controversial farm laws. The protest is part of a “Delhi Chalo” rally which called for farmers from across the country to reach the national capital on 26 and 27 November. As the farmers advanced from Punjab, through Haryana, and toward Delhi, police in Haryana and on the Delhi border barricaded various major roads to stop the farmers from reaching the capital. The police also attacked them with teargas shells and water cannons.
Like Malik and Mumukshu, several ordinary people have started coming out to participate in the protests in support of the farmers. Community groups, social organisations and social activists across the country are expressing their solidarity. Protests are being organised at the district and block levels in different states by civil society organisations and people’s groups. Even teachers, professors and corporate professionals have started extending their support. Mohammad Arif, a professor in Varanasi and the convenor of All India Secular Forum UP, a civil-society group, was briefly arrested while protesting in Varanasi on 8 December. “The entire nation is there in support of the farmers,” he told me. “These bills must be rolled back. Now the intellectuals, social organisations, political organisation all have joined hands and they are determined to save the democracy. Be it pamphlet distribution or march to the villages or meetings, we would do all our best to support the farmers.”
I spoke to Jagmati Sangwan, the vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, a womens’ organisation. “In my 35 years of activism, this is for the first time that I have witnessed such a broad based resistance,” she said. “Broad based on both ends—the number of organisations involved in the leadership and also the huge mass support for this agitation at the grassroots level. We salute the Punjab farmers’ initiative, courage and commitment. Along with their courage, their discipline and dignity in their conduct has won the hearts across the globe. The spontaneous support extended by the artists, sports’ persons and other eminent persons indicates the level of support this movement has received.”