Punjab Panchayats, lawyers step up efforts to aid farmers’ protests post 26 January rally

06 February 2021
Farmers with their children during a protest against the three farm laws at a railway station in Jandiala Guru village, about 20 kilometres away from Punjab’s Amritsar, on 27 October 2020. After a farmers’ rally saw violence in Delhi on Republic Day 2021, sit-ins against the laws have been seeing signs of impending forced eviction. Panchayats in Punjab have since increased their efforts to keep the movement going.
NARINDER NANU / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
Farmers with their children during a protest against the three farm laws at a railway station in Jandiala Guru village, about 20 kilometres away from Punjab’s Amritsar, on 27 October 2020. After a farmers’ rally saw violence in Delhi on Republic Day 2021, sit-ins against the laws have been seeing signs of impending forced eviction. Panchayats in Punjab have since increased their efforts to keep the movement going.
NARINDER NANU / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

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.” 

Some panchayats have also added clauses in their resolutions to ensure that no untoward incident occurs due to the participation of their villagers. The Karadwala panchayat’s resolution reads, “Anyone found to be consuming alcohol or any other intoxicant or indulges in hooliganism will have to pay a fine of Rs 5,100, in addition to being insulted in the village gathering. Anybody leaving on their own would be responsible for their safety and actions.” Charanji Singh, the sarpanch of the Kishangarh Pharwahi village in Mansa district, said there was a gathering at a dharamshala in the village wherein the resolution was passed. In the gathering, it was decided that those who do not comply with it will be fined Rs 2000 and those breaking the law would be fined Rs 4,000.

Some resolutions mention that the panchayats will take responsibility in case of any adverse incident occurs due to their participation in the protests. Hardeep Kaur, the sarpanch of Hasanpur Jattan village in Patiala, mentioned in her resolution that the village will pay for any loss incurred because of its participation. Kaur said people are attending the protest on a rotation basis. The resolution, like a few other resolutions, also mentions that only those above 18 years of age can participate. The resolution passed by Jaswinder Singh, the sarpanch of Deluana village in Mansa, says that the village will provide compensation in case of any damage to the villagers’ tractors in the protest. It also mentions that villagers would share their tractors with families who have sent their tractors to Delhi for the protests.

Jatinder Kaur Tur is a senior journalist with two decades of experience with various national English-language dailies, including the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle.

Keywords: Farmers' Protest Punjab
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