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Jalandhar: After passionately fighting an oppressive regime during the farmers’ protest, the Sanyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM), the political front of the farmers’ unions, has fielded some interesting young faces for the upcoming Punjab assembly elections scheduled for February 20, banking on the very names that worked on the movement behind the scenes.
The SSM has fielded a roster of professors, doctors, lawyers, agriculturists and activists, sending a clear message that they stand by their party’s slogan ‘Ayo Punjabiyo, Punjab Bachaiye (Come Punjabis, let’s save Punjab)’.
Among their election hopefuls is Anuroop Kaur Sandhu (29), who has been fielded by the SSM from the Sri Muktsar Sahib assembly seat. At present, the Muktsar Sahib seat is represented by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA Kanwarjit Singh Rozy Barkandi.
An assistant professor at the Sri Guru Teg Bahadur Khalsa College in Delhi University (DU), Sandhu chronicled the deaths of over 700 farmers during the farmers’ protest through her blog ‘Human Cost of Farmers Protest’. She is also pursuing an MPhil in Comparative Indian Literature from DU.
Through this blog, her goal was the timely upliftment of the families of slain farmers by reaching out to NGOs in real time. It was an effort to save the current generation of Punjabis from being doomed to another circle of depression, as was seen after Partition in 1947 and in the wake of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Talking to The Wire, Sandhu said that the farmers’ protest, particularly the martyrdom of farmers’ who, on average, held less than three acres of land yet fought tooth-and-nail to get the three farm laws repealed, left a deep impact on her mind and soul.
“There was a time when I had decided to move abroad and start life afresh on foreign shores. Given the way minorities were being persecuted and targeted across the country, I felt unsafe. But the farmers’ protest changed my life beyond words. The way farmers were being demonised, their struggle, especially one instance of a tribal woman at the Shahjahanpur border in UP who died fighting for the rights of farmers, made up my mind to stay back in Punjab and work for my people. It made me feel: ‘If she can, why can’t I?’” Sandhu said.
Hailing from the Kanianwali village of the Sri Muktsar Sahib district, Sandhu comes from a farmer’s family. Her father, Gurshinder Pal Singh Sandhu, is a progressive farmer and her siblings are settled in Australia.
On fighting a four-cornered contest against the Congress, SAD-BSP and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Sandhu said, “My fight is issue-based. People in Punjab are fed up with the Congress, SAD and AAP. The launch of SSM, which emerged from the farmers’ movement, has changed the dynamics. I have the support of farmers, grassroots-level people, different unions, rural as well as urban people. Though I have studied in Delhi, that does not mean that I am not connected with my roots or that I am not aware of the problems of my region.”
Speaking further about the specific issues of the Sri Muktsar Sahib seat, Sandhu said, “The depleting ground water table; unregulated flow of toxic water into the Sutlej river from industries in Jalandhar and Ludhiana; the rising cases of cancer in this belt; poor road connectivity; a lack of good educational institutions, including schools; farmers’ suicides; crop diversification; making farming a sustainable economic model and drugs – these are issues close to my heart. One of my cousins even started taking drugs and was undergoing rehabilitation at a de-addiction centre.”
Other notable youngsters who have been fielded by SSM include Sukhmandeep Singh Dhillon from the Tarn Taran seat. Dhillon is an MBBS graduate who dropped his plans to pursue his MD in the US in order to take part in the farmers’ protest.
Prem Singh Bhangu, a law graduate, is another such notable youth who has been given a ticket from Ghanaur in Patiala, as is Ravneet Singh Brar, a young agriculturist being fielded from Mohali who has a BSc (D) and an MBA and Amarjit Singh Mann, a practising BHMS doctor, who has been fielded from the Sunam assembly seat in the Sangrur district.
The Sri Muktsar Sahib district is famous for the ‘Maghi Fair’ where people gather in large numbers to pay obeisance at the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Muktsar. The Maghi Fair is observed for the martyrdom of ‘Chalis Muktas’ (forty Sikhs), who had deserted the tenth Sikh master Guru Gobind Singh, but had returned after being persuaded by Mai Bhago, a Sikh warrior woman. Later, the 40 Sikhs lay down their lives fighting the Mughals in 1705.