“The central government may have pushed through these bills by force but we will not allow them to be implemented,” Harinder Kaur Bindu, a farmers’ leader who is active in the Malwa region of Punjab, told me on 22 September. She continued, “We are willing to put our lives on the line against these bills. This is not the first time that Punjab’s organisations have protested against central policies.” While the bills—the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill—were passed in the Parliament between 20 and 22 September, Punjab’s farmers have been protesting against them since June, when they were first announced as ordinances. But over the last three months, organisations representing several sectors in the state—farm workers, labour, dairy farmers, commission agents, retailers, women’s rights groups, cultural activists—have lent their support to Punjab’s farmers. Women and the state’s youth have joined the protests in huge numbers and converted the protests into a peoples’ movement.
As of 28 September, at least 31 farmers’ organisations have come together in Punjab to organise the agitations. This includes the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Dakonda), the Krantikari Kisan Union, the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, the Jamhoori Kisan Sabha, the Punjab Kisan Union, the Azad Kisan Sangharsh Committee, the Kul Hind Kisan Sabha (Punjab) and the Jai Kisan Andolan, among others. They organised a three-day “rail roko,”or rail blockade, from 24 to 26 September, alongside a Punjab Bandh, or general strike, on 25 September. The rail blockade will be resumed on 1 October for an indefinite period. Joginder Singh Ugrahan, the president of the BKU(EU), told me, “We are witnessing a constantly increasing participation by common people in the farmers’ protests. More women and young people are joining these morchas every day.”
Darshan Pal, the coordinator of the 31 organisations, told me, “None of the farmers’ wings of any of the political parties are a part of the protesting farmers’ groups. Our struggle has been going on for over three months while these political parties have woken up just 15 days ago, and that too to shine their political agendas.” In fact, contrary to the claims by the central government that the farmers are being misled by vested political interests, Punjab’s farmers’ have unequivocally eschewed any political interference, as reported by The Caravan earlier. “Captain and Badal are the same when it comes to farmers’ demands,” Bindu told me. She was referring to the incumbent chief minister of Punjab, the Congress’s Amarinder Singh and Sukhbir Singh Badal, the president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, the principle opposition party in the state and erstwhile ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the centre. The SAD pulled out of its 23-year-old alliance with the BJP, and the ruling National Democratic Alliance, on 26 September.
Since September, the people of the state have voluntarily started joining in the farmers’ processions and sit-ins—every day tractors loaded with women and young people are turning up at protest sites. As I travelled through the districts of Amritsar, Patiala, Bhatinda, Muktsar and Mansa, among others, the pervasive sentiment among people was that if they do not speak up now it will be too late. Ram Singh, a farmers’ leader from Mansa, told me, “Several people from the villages here have broken away from political parties to become members of farmers groups.”
The Lambi Vidhan Sabha constituency, in Muktsar district, is the SAD’s Parkash Singh Badal’s home turf. At least two dozen villages of Lambi appealed to the farmers’ group to be allowed to be a part of a rally organised in Badal village, in the same district. Badal is the ancestral village of the Badal family and considered their stronghold. The rally, which started on 15 September, went on for eight days. At least six buses full of people turned up at the protest site just from the neighbouring villages of Bhatinda district, such as Chaukey. This included several women and youth. The women came draped in dupattas of yellow and saffron, colours symbolic to the farming community. Till date, none of these villages would ever see participation of more than thirty or so people for any farmers’ protest. Amarinder’s home turf, Patiala town, witnessed a similar protest rally on 15 September, which, too, went on for eight days. At the protest site, I met Gurdev Singh, an elderly farmer from a village called Gajju Majra in Patiala district. His passion was a sight to behold. “We will break this centre’s stubbornness. When rulers get stubborn it’s a crime to sit at home.”