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Agriculture

From Students, Dalits to the Punjabi Diaspora, Volunteers Made the Farmers’ Protest a Success

Support for the farmers' cause came from all corners of the globe and in some cases, even enabled Punjabis settled abroad to reconnect with their roots.

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Jalandhar: The much-awaited repeal of the three farm laws has brought people from different worlds – located thousands of miles apart – on the same page. In India and in the West – especially in the US, UK and Canada – the same celebratory mood is evident.

If the youth of the Naujawan Sangharsh Jatha would stand every evening on the Jalandhar-Hoshiarpur highway in the Punjab’s Adampur town protesting against farm laws, their counterparts would also gather at Scott Road in Surrey from four o’clock to nine o’clock every evening in Canada’s British Columbia province to support the protesting farmers.

On November 19 too, they came out on the roads to celebrate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that the farm laws would be repealed. From the farmers and NRIs who put the protest on the global map to the Dalits, students, players, businessmen and activists who extended their support, the protest saw the voluntary participation of one and all.

As second-generation Canadian-Punjabi Simar Sahota from Surrey said, “Initially, I was in disbelief when I got a call from my grandmother that the farm laws have been withdrawn. I hurriedly checked the news and Instagram pages to check if it was true. The moment it was confirmed, we rushed to Scott Road where people have been gathering to protest against the farm laws for over a year. A group of youth used to gather every evening in solidarity with farmers here and slowly everybody joined in. People celebrated as if there was no tomorrow. From bhangra, farmers’ songs to crackers and car rallies, it was a sight to behold,” she said.

Watch: ‘Victory of Andolanjeevis’: Farmers at Ghazipur Vow to Continue Movement

A graduate student at the Simon Fraser University in Surrey, Sahota continued, “Back home in Punjab, we come from a farmer’s family. As I have been born and brought up in Canada, we had almost lost connection with our roots but the farmers’ protest enthused us once again. Now, I am eager to visit my village and meet those farmers’ who fought for their rights and got the farm laws repealed,” she said.

Similarly in Adampur, where the youth used to protest against the farm laws every evening, November 19 was a day of victory and celebration.

Calling it a sewa to farmers, a volunteer, who is working as a private veterinary doctor, said under the condition of anonymity, “We used to stand on the highway every evening and yesterday was our 250th day. We distributed ladoos, had a cake cutting ceremony and danced till late night to celebrate the historic day. Whether it was the scorching heat, rains, storms or now winters, we stood on the highway religiously. It was after seeing the grit of our elderly farmers in the extreme cold of December last year that I decided to hold this protest every day. I am glad we also contributed to this protest,” he said.

Farmers dance in celebration after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the three contentious farm laws would be repealed, at Tikri border in New Delhi, November 19, 2021. Photo: PTI

The farmers’ protest has reconnected second/third generation Punjabi emigrants to their roots

The contribution of the Punjabi diaspora to the farmers’ protest can  be gauged from the fact that people settled in the US, UK, Canada and Europe not only held protests abroad but also visited protest sites and assisted financially.

“For us, it was a do or die battle. Back home in Punjab, we remained in touch with the villagers and made sure that the farmers’ protest did not face any trouble. NRIs contributed generously,” said a Punjabi settled in the US, requesting anonymity.

Tara Gill, another second-generation Punjabi emigrant said that in Surrey, the farmers’ protest became a rallying point for everybody. “The protests started spontaneously. People started bringing tents, arranged tea, langar and basic necessities at Scott Road. Initially, protests were held in downtown Vancouver and some parks too, but Scott Road emerged as the protest site. I am happy that not just that the farm laws have been repealed but also because our children, who were born and brought up in Canada developed an interest in the farmers’ protest, Punjab’s history and culture. They also developed social network through Twitter and Instagram with people back home in India and, in fact, kept us informed about the developments in farmers’ protest,” he said.

Gill’s elderly parents, who are settled in the UK were also elated over farm laws being repealed. “Coming from farming families, we got involved in the farmers’ protest across countries. As Punjabi diaspora is settled across the world, we got in touch with them.”

Arsh Nijjer, another college student from Surrey said, “Last year, when the farmers’ protests began, I thought that people usually protest in India and this is also one of those routine protests. It was only when I noticed my brothers, cousins, parents and friends, who are international students from Punjab, talking about it that I got interested in the protest. Then there was no looking back. The farmers’ protest became a part of our lives, so much so that our daily conversations revolved around them. When the news spread that the farm laws have been repealed, we were overjoyed,” she said.

Farmers celebrate at Ghazipur border on Friday. Photo: Sumedha Pal, The Wire.

National Director for Khalsa Aid, Canada, Jatinder Singh said, “While the farmers were protesting in India, we led constant protests, rallies in favour of farmers and amplified their voice. When the farm laws were repealed, it was very personal for us. During the protest, we started joining webinars on farming, getting banners and posters made and even following independent journalists like Sandeep Singh and Amaan Bali to stay up-to-date about everything. The farmers’ protest was a game changer beyond words. We have never been connected with people back home in Punjab the way we are now. Also, we pushed the ‘Godi media’ back through our campaigns and followed select media houses who were committed to facts,” he said.

Watch: Tikri Border: ‘We Have Not Gained Anything, We’ve Suffered Big Losses’

Dalit’s contribution:

The farmers’ protest epitomised the ‘Kisan-Mazdoor Ekta’ slogan. Farm labourers, despite facing the worst social and economic setbacks in agriculture and the society, remained at the Delhi’s borders to get the laws repealed.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was announcing the withdrawal of the laws, Makhan Singh was busy with the cremation of his father, Harcharan Singh Khalsa at the Hakam Singh Wala village in Punjab’s Mansa district.

Harcharan Singh (65) was a landless farm labourer, who was so committed to the farmers’ protest that even after having met with an accident on October 1 at the Tikri Border, he kept pleading with everybody not to take him home.

His son, Makhan Singh said, “My father was associated with Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, Mansa. He was admitted to PGI, Rohtak just because he was not willing to go home. He breathed his last at the Tikri border on November 17. His only wish was to either get the farm laws repealed or to die as a martyr at Tikri. When Prime Minister Modi announced the repeal of farm laws, it was an extremely emotional moment for me. I was in tears, both of grief and joy.”

Also read: After Repealing Farm Laws, Govt Should Plan Reforms Which Actually Benefit Farmers

The hospitality and tourism graduate who managed a langar

A young hospitality and tourism graduate from a college in Singapore, Jagjeet Singh had come home to his village in Rurka Kalan in Jalandhar for a vacation in February, 2020, when the nationwide lockdown was announced. “I was waiting for my work permit in Singapore when the lockdown was announced. Within months, the farmers’ protest started in Punjab and since then I had been associated with the ‘Maa Dharti de Waarisan da Langar’ at the Singhu border. I was solely responsible for managing the dry ration, utensils, LPG supply, water, milk, timely cooking of food and running the kitchen. Yesterday, when we got to know that farm laws have been repealed, we celebrated big with a special langar where we distributed sweets,” he said.

Jagjeet’s brother Sukhpal Singh, a Kabbaddi player who also remained at Singhu border and served the farmers said, “We took it as a god sent opportunity to serve the farmers and moreover, as I was free, it made things easy for us.”

Farmers celebrate at Ghazipur Border in New Delhi, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Photo: PTI.

A farmer, Nirmal Singh Cheema from the Cheema Khurd village in Jalandhar did his duty by providing tents, bedding, bedsheets, maintaining identity records of visitors who used to avail the tent service at the KFC Mall where Jagjeet’s langar was running. “I went home just once, that too after six months of protest. Even now, as the winter season started, we were almost ready with the washing and drying of our blankets, bedsheets and mattresses. As the farm laws have been repealed and the first anniversary of farmers’ protest is just six days away, we are getting busy,” he said.

Also read: The Leaders Who Shaped, Guided and Sustained the Farmers’ Movement

Ram Singh Rana and the Golden Hut dhaba

Ram Singh Rana, owner of the Golden Hut dhaba near Kurukshetra’s Pipli also featured in the news, not just for his sewa to the protesting farmers but also due to his suppression at the hands of the Haryana government when National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) officials blocked the entrance of his dhaba with boulders. The NHAI officials had claimed that the boulders had been placed there for road safety and it was only after the BKU (Charuni) group held a protest against the high handedness of the Haryana government that access to the Golden Hut was restored.

Situated on the Ambala-Delhi highway, the dhabha was open to farmers, especially women, during the harsh winters and rains in January and February. He also provided free milk and langar sewa for farmers.

Rana said, “We faced some problems during the farmers’ protest but when the victory is historical and earned well, one forgets everything. I come from a farmers’ family and supporting the protest was natural. Governments come and go but farmers will stay here forever. For me, they are my family and I stood by them despite all odds. Zameer zinda rakha maine aur zubaan pakki (My conscience remains alive and I keep my word). All that I have earned in this protest is love, friends, family and life long relations, which is the only asset I value in life,” he said, proudly.