“We told them that if you beat us, we will be called brave, and if the people beat us, we will be dubbed traitors,” Nirbhay Singh Dhudike, a prominent farmer-leader who heads the Kirti Kisan Union, told me on 9 December. Dhudike said this to three union ministers in one of the several marathon meetings held at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan between the representatives of the protesting farmers and the central government since 3 December. “Te gall vi sahee hai”—this is true as well, he stressed.
Dhudike’s KKU is among the dozens of kisan, or farmer, organisations that are currently protesting against three farm laws recently enacted by the Narendra Modi government. Since late November, thousands of farmers have blockaded Delhi’s borders, demanding the laws be overturned.
The protests began primarily with farmers from Punjab, who were soon joined by large groups of farmers from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Farmer leaders have met with union ministers and government representatives several times since the protests began. While the Modi government has so far refused to repeal the laws, the farmers remain firm—they have repeatedly rejected anything less than a withdrawal. Beholden to the demand of its cadres, the leadership of the protests is standing firm in its talks with the government.
I spoke to Dhudike at Singhu, on the Delhi-Haryana border, which has become one of the main protest sites. We met some two kilometres away from the central stage on the blocked national highway. He had just emerged from a closed-door meeting of the entire farmer leadership. Dhudike told me that all the farmer leaders present had re-affirmed their resolve to get the farm laws repealed.
Passions and tempers flew high amidst the banners and placards. “No compromise—aar paar ke morche par date raho saathiyo”—comrades, stay firm on this do-or-die protest, read a poster pinned to the back of a young man’s t-shirt, as he sat amongst his fellow activists from Haryana. Flags of different farmers’ bodies fluttered atop thousands of tractors and trolleys that crowded the path back to the stage. The message was clear, so much so that it was regularly announced from the stage: repeal the “kaale kanoon,” or black laws.