Since 26 January, at least 14 panchayats in Punjab have passed resolutions aimed at increasing the participants in the ongoing farmers’ sit-ins against the three farm laws at Delhi’s borders. The panchayats fall in Barnala, Bathinda, Mansa, Faridkot, Patiala and Tarn Taran districts. The resolutions were passed following the violence that unfolded in the capital during the protesting farmers’ Republic Day tractor rally. Mainstream media began vilifying the protesters and signs of impending forced eviction from prominent sit-ins began to appear, including internet suspensions, a security build-up, and the stoppage of water and power supply. Panchayats in Punjab have since increased their efforts to keep the movement going.
Panchayats have issued directions to send one member from each family for the protest or else pay a fine. The conditions vary in each resolution. For instance, most panchayats have decided to impose just a fine on those who do not obey the directions. But a resolution passed in Faridkot district’s Sibian village says that one member from every house has to be sent to the sit-ins for a week or else face a fine of Rs 500 per acre—according to the size of their farmland—in addition to a social boycott. Further, in many resolutions, the panchayats have warned villagers of maintaining discipline during the protests—“no hullarbazi,” as one resolution mentioned.
Panchayats is Punjab have registered their opposition to the laws earlier as well. According to The Wire, as of 3 October 2020, over a dozen village panchayats in the state had reportedly arrived at a consensus against the laws and more were expected to follow suit. I spoke to sarpanches of many of the panchayats which passed such resolutions after 26 January. They denied that such resolutions are an imposition on the villagers—according to them, the villagers were keen on participating in the movement themselves.
Lakha Singh, the sarpanch of Kabulpur village in Patiala, said that although the village panchayat has passed such a resolution, “the queue for those keen on participating in protest runs long.” Ratanveer Singh, the sarpanch of Mansa’s Moola Singh Wala, said, “Every villager is a keen volunteer and our people have been there”—at the sit-ins—since the beginning of the protest.”
According to Ratanveer, some people had gone to Delhi specifically for the tractor rally. He said when they heard about the violence on their way back to Punjab, they turned their tractors back to the protest sites. Mangal Singh, the sarpanch of Fazilpur village in Tarn Taran district, told me that one such resolution was passed in his village too, but he was not the one who tabled it. He said many people in his village had gathered in a gurudwara and passed the resolution on their own. “They just asked me to put my stamp on the letterhead,” he said.
Avtar Singh is the sarpanch of Bathinda’s Karadwala village, which has also passed a similar resolution. To give an idea of how many people may be mobilised with such a move, he said his village has nearly 3,500 voters. Avtar is also the head of the Sarpanch Union of Rampura Block in Bathinda. According to him, 30 panchayats in the block have passed similar resolutions. He said the resolutions comprise points like “ten individuals from each ward will be going to Delhi in jathas, or batches, for a week and all those who refuse will have to pay a fine of Rs 2,100.”