The sky had been overcast all day in Gharachon village, in Punjab’s Sangrur district. It was cold and by evening, it started to rain. None of that deterred Gurmail Kaur, as she prepared for the “Chalo Dilli” rally for the next day—an “onwards to Delhi” march called by farmers’ organisations of Punjab, to protest the three farm laws recently enacted by the Narendra Modi government. The plan was to reach the capital on 26 and 27 November. Gurmail was around eighty years old and as she packed a small bag, she smiled and said, “I am prepared to die for our land.” The bag contained one change of clothing, a yellow chunni, or scarf-like throw, a towel, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a blanket. She told me that she used to step out of the house only for marriages and mournings, that too with her family. This was the first time she was joining any movement.
“I used to get out of the house in a veil. Then veils went out of fashion; I never got rid of my chunni. Now, I don’t care about this chunni anymore. I do not like my house anymore. I do not belong inside even after we win this fight against Modi,” she said. A picture of her son, in the uniform of Punjab Police, hung from the wall. He died twenty years ago. Over the next two weeks, as protesting farmers blockaded Delhi’s borders with Haryana at Singhu and Tikri, Gurmail became a regular sight at the protest site in Singhu.
On 5 December, the ninth day of the protests, I met a group of women from the Kakrala Bhaika village of Punjab’s Patiala district, at the Tikri protest site. The women were rolling rotis for dinner and they pointed out the men of their village, who were cooking vegetables and a carrot kheer. Mukhtiar Kaur, an 80-year-old, told me about her granddaughter. “She is your age. She is well educated but there are no jobs. There will be no land either.” She complained about the cold and the chest pains it was causing her. And then she added, “But we shall fight. I am not afraid to die now.” Amarjit Kaur, a 60-year-old, had come to the protest with her whole family. “The agrarian condition was not good previously also. But now it is the worst. We chose this government and now we shall confront it over such one-sided laws,” she said.