'Must Protect Our Inheritance': Why College Students Are Joining the Farmers' Protest

Many youngsters believe that with the high-level of unemployment in the country, a formal education does not guarantee a secure future. They want to protect their families' livelihood – farming – first.

New Delhi: Hundreds of police personnel have surrounded the protest site at Tikri Border, one of the borders between Delhi and Haryana. After crossing several rounds of barricades, a man wearing a pagdi or turban was addressing a crowd from the stage that has been set-up at the farmers’ protest site.

The speaker’s closing remarks invite a huge round of applause from the audience consisting of farmers, young and old, male and female. He had said, “They are calling us Khalistani, terrorists. Let them. To them, we say, ‘Yes, we are terrorists. We are the same terrorists who grow food, because of whom you are able to eat’.”

Graffiti that says ‘Repeal all three farm laws’ on a pillar at the farmers’ Tikri protest site. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

A farmer at the protest site in Delhi. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

Another farmer at the protest site. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

Two young men, Harkirat Singh and Kiran Pal Singh, both from Sri Muktsar Sahib, a small city in Punjab, stand guard to the huge sabha or gathering on one side. They and several other men have made a circle around the sabha “for security reasons.”

Harkirat Singh is a master’s student of political science at a government college back in Punjab. Like all others, classes in his college have been shifted online owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he hasn’t been able to attend any of them this past week. Why? Because he is volunteering full-time at the Tikri border to support his family and the other farmers’ in their cause.

“I am spending more time here, hardly managing to take my online classes. It’s difficult, but our teachers will understand. We are ultimately farmers, and what else will we do if not farming?” he asks.

He says that he would have considered taking up a job after college, but due to the high rate of unemployment in the country, that is looking “impossible.”

“We will end up as farmers, there are anyway no jobs for us. And hence, we have to secure our future and that means protesting right now,” he says. He claimed to have multiple friends who have formal degrees but have not been able to land jobs.

Food arrangements inside a truck. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

Kiran Pal Singh also studies in the same college but is an undergraduate student. He is in his final year and is anxious about his exams, which are only a few months away. “But what can we do? We have inherited farming from our elders. We have to protect our professions first,” he says.

He is also skeptical if a formal education will benefit him or help him secure a job. “There is no future for us after graduation. There is a scarcity of jobs. The only thing we can depend on is our farming, which is also now being snatched away from us,” he says. “Instead of giving more employment, they are taking the employment that we already have,” he added.

His entire family – including his 70-year-old grandfather – is at the protest. “Then how could I, a young fellow, sit at home?” he questions.

Several hundred college students have joined the protest sites of the farmers such as Singhu, Tikrit and Ghazipur. As youngsters, they have been actively involved in volunteer work, especially guarding the main protest sites.

Graffiti on a pillar that says ‘Changes in labour laws must be rejected’ at the farmers’ Tikri protest site. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

Gurmeet Singh studies in Akal Academy, a school in Haryana’s Fatehabad district. He has been at the Tikrit border for the past week, after some members from his village returned back home and he was asked to take their place at the site. A Class XII student, he is aware that missing classes at this crucial juncture could damage his preparations for the board exams, only a few months away.

But he asks an important question. “If we don’t have our basic income from our farms, how will the students of tomorrow study? They will not be able to. We have to make this sacrifice to secure a better future for tomorrow’s kids.”

He mainly volunteers during the langar but also manages security at the protest site. At 20 years old, Singh is dedicated to finishing his studies before becoming a full-time farmer.

Gurmeet Singh (middle) stands with people from his village. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

Santosh Singh, a young man from Haryana’s Hisar, is a studying Bachelor’s in Education at Jan Nayak Ch. Devi Lal Vidyapeeth in Sirsa. He has been travelling to Hisar from the protest site at Delhi every day for the past week to bring basic necessities such as milk and clean water to the site. “Right now, our people need us. And if we can’t make the government stop these laws, a college degree will anyway not matter as we will have no income.”

Santosh Singh, standing next to gallons of milk he has brought from Hisar to the protest site. Photo: Ismat Ara/The Wire

“We are children of farmers before anything else…” he added.