Jasminder Singh, a 43-year-old farmer from Punjab’s Perron village, pulled up his cotton trousers to show me large blue bruises on his legs. “See, how badly the police hit me,” he said angrily. His body was covered in such marks, proof of the beating. Jasminder stared at the light streaming into a small barrack in Tihar Jail, where we were both lodged. He looked at me with tears in his eyes. “What does the government think—that it will break our spirits by jailing us? That is a big misconception. Maybe it is not aware of our history. We will not turn back until these laws are repealed.”
On 29 January, Jasminder said, he was on his way back from Narela, near the Singhu border of Delhi. Since late November 2020, lakhs of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have gathered at several entry points into the national capital in a massive agitation against farm laws enacted by the Narendra Modi government in 2020. Along with thirty or so other farmers, Jasminder had gone to Narela to buy vegetables and other supplies. “When we were coming back, the police attacked us with sticks,” he said. “They took all of us in a green bus, got our medical done and locked us up in Tihar Jail.”
Malkit Singh a 47-year-old farmer from the Himatpura village in Tohana tehsil of Haryana was also among those farmers. Vague expressions of both fear and confidence crossed his face when we spoke. When I asked him about this, he said, “It’s no fear, just worry. We do not even know what sections”—of the Indian Penal Code—“are imposed on us, why they have been imposed.”
I met Jasminder and Malkit during the three days I spent in Tihar, after the police arrested me on 30 January, while I was reporting at Singhu border. They are among the 120 people that the police has arrested since 26 January, under 13 first-information reports. That day, a tractor rally to mark the agitation resulted in clashes between the farmers and the Delhi Police. The police met the protesting farmers with heavy barricading, tear-gas shelling and lathi charges. In turn, the farmers moved the barricades, making their way to central Delhi via Outer Ring Road, with some reaching all the way to the Red Fort. Farmer unions condemned the violence but refused to halt the agitation.