No divisiveness here: Farmers welcome all solidarity at the Kundli protest

Sardar Santhok Singh, a 70-year-old farmer from Tarn Taran district’s Gharka village, was injured during the security forces’ action to stop the Delhi Chalo protest rally from reaching Delhi. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
Sardar Santhok Singh, a 70-year-old farmer from Tarn Taran district’s Gharka village, was injured during the security forces’ action to stop the Delhi Chalo protest rally from reaching Delhi. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
05 December, 2020

On 2 December, we met Devinder Singh, a farmer from Punjab, at a sit in protest by farmers at Kundli, on the Delhi-Haryana border. Lakhs of farmers were supposed to reach the capital on on 26 November and 27 November as a part of “Delhi Chalo,” a protest rally against three new farm laws. But they were stopped, after security forces responded to the march by barricading Delhi’s borders, shelling teargas and firing water cannons. It was after the crackdown that Devinder joined the protest, arriving at Kundli on 30 November. “I saw all the messages and images of people being together and fighting for their rights. I could not sit at home,” he said. “Everyone from Punjab wants to be here. It is one of the most important moments in our history. My 13-year-old son also wants to be here.”

Between 9.30 am and 7 pm that day, we interacted with the protesters at Kundli, most of whom were from Punjab and Haryana. The protesters welcomed all forms of solidarity and even the media to the sit in, except what they termed as “Godi media”—media which acts as a lapdog of the central government instead of doing its job. Devinder said shops and local businesses at Kundi also cooperated with the protesters and supported them. “They have all united and helped us distribute food and give shelter to people,” he said. “We have not seen any division over here.” 

Concertina wires atop a barricade at the Kundli protest site, on the Delhi-Haryana border. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Near the gathering of protesters, tractors and trucks lined up on a nearly four-kilometre-long stretch. Police barricades on one end were serving as an entry point of sorts to the gathering. A few hundred meters from the barricades, we saw a tent for langar—long mats in four different rows were placed underneath it, over a stretch of about thirty meters. Meals were served through the day, and the food never seemed to reduce in capacity. 

“No one is going to go hungry or thirsty from here,” Gurcharan Deep Saini, one of the organisers of the langar that day, told us. Most of the coordination for the protest and the langars at the site was done through social media, specifically WhatsApp. “If anyone needs any kind of food or a mattress or anything, they just have to send one message, and it will reach them,” Saini said. “With the network of people we have now, we can talk to each other and share our messages and concerns very easily.”

A journalist from the India Today group with a mic. Journalists from Aaj Tak, Republic and Zee news were reporting from areas closer to the police barricades at Kundli. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Inderjit Singh, a farmer from Ludhiana, and a member of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, also reiterated this point. He showed us his WhatsApp chats, and how only administrators could post in his union’s group. “We need to know what is being said and don’t want people to post good morning messages and fake news,” Inderjit told us. “We want to keep it focused on the protest. If anyone wants to say anything, they can message us,” he added. 

While the protest appeared to be coordinated via social media, the mobile network was patchy and the internet speed was slow through the day. “It was much faster on our way here,” Hardeep Singh, a protester from Hoshiarpur, told us. “I don’t know why it was so slow. Maybe they don’t want us to reach out to more people,” he said. “Thankfully, it is not like Jammu and Kashmir where they can cut off our internet.” Hardeep made it a point to mention that the Reliance group’s Jio’s signal is also erratic. “We don’t like using it because of Ambani,” he said. 

Tractors and trucks lined up on a nearly four-kilometre-long stretch beside the gathering of protesters at Kundli. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Several protesting farmers shared this disdain for big corporates, particularly Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance group and the Adani group. They feared that the new laws would leave the markets of their crops open to exploitation by the private sector, without any legislative accountability of the government or assurance to procure the produce at the minimum support price. “Many people have said that we will benefit from no MSP, but we know that Ambani and Adani are the ones who are going to benefit,” Devinder told us. “Everyone in Punjab knows the truth. You cannot lie to us. It is not as if we’ve suddenly woken from our slumber and come to Delhi.” 

Farmers in Punjab have been protesting the laws since June—when the central government had approved them in the form of ordinances—and have been educating others about them. Since then, people from other professions have also marked their opposition to the farm laws. In particular, many people in the Punjabi entertainment industry have been vocally supporting the farmers’ protests. This was visible on 2 December too. 

Protesters at the Kundli border. The protesters welcomed all forms of solidarity and even the media to the sit in, except what they termed as “Godi media.” Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

As we were walking past a petrol pump near the sit in, a tractor with huge speakers was blaring, “Pecha”—locking horns—a song by Kanwar Grewal and Haraf Cheema on the farmers’ protests. Released on 21 November, the song already has more than three million views on YouTube. Its video featured images of the farmers’ protests, and its lyrics include, “Khich le Jatta. Khich tayari. Pecha pai gaya centre naal”—Come on, Jatt. Make all preparations. We have locked horns with the centre. Another recent song by Grewal, “Ailaan,” or declaration, also talks about the protesting farmers. Delhi-A, a song by R Nait and Laddi Gill, was also heard frequently at the sit in. Its video, which has over two million views, features images of farmers’ protests as well as extracts from newspapers on the protests. The song’s chorus includes a line, “Dilli, ey Punjab naal pange theek ni”—Delhi, it’s not okay to challenge Punjab. 

An old man reads a newspaper at the Kundli border sit in. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Another popular song at the rally was “Pagri Sambhal Jatta”—take care of the turban—which harkens back to a British Raj-era rally in 1907, where it was sung for the first time. The rally’s organisers included Kishan Singh and Ajit Singh—the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s father and uncle, respectively. In a video by a Punjabi YouTube news channel, “The Story,” Jasbir Singh, a professor from Panjab University, spoke about the long history of songs of resistance being composed in connection to farmers’ crisis. Describing the artists who are composing songs in response to the ongoing movement, Jasbir said, “apna farz ada kar rahe hai”—they are just doing their duty.  “The artists who have been speaking up consistently, they are on some level repeating what was happening a hundred years ago,” he said.

Farmers we met trusted local Punjabi media portals—including KTV, Daily Post Punjabi—and were furious with the national television media’s coverage. They were shooing away the channels who they thought were biased. On 29 November, we saw that a group of protestors had encircled Milan Sharma, a journalist from Aaj Tak, and raised slogans against the channel. On 1 December, we saw her at the site a couple of times—she was either using a lapel mic or a normal mic which did not have the logo of the channel. Journalists from Aaj Tak, Republic and Zee news, were reporting from areas closer to the police barricades. This was in stark contrast to the interviews conducted by Daily Post Punjabi which was reporting from deep parts of the gathering, well beyond the barricades.

A protester at the Kundli border in a Shaheed Bhagat Singh Youth Federation shirt. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Referring to the insinuations by TV media that the protesters were connected to the Khalistan movement, Inderjit said, “Look at the number of older farmers here, do you think they are terrorists?” Maninder Singh, one of the protesters, told us, “They want to make this about something else and want to divide us. But look, our Harayanvi brothers have also joined us. Soon, other states will also join.” 

Towards the end of the night, near the police barricades, we saw a reporter from NewsX surrounded by farmers. The farmers were chanting, “Kisan virodhi media go back”—anti-farmer media go back—and “Modi da media go back”—Modi’s media go back. “You’ve walked around and you’ve seen the kinds of people here,” Inderjit said. “We are all feeding each other and are not here to kill anyone. All we want is for the farm bill to be repealed.”