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Jalandhar: As packed tractor-trolleys playing Punjabi songs reached Punjab and Haryana from Singhu border over the last two days, what farmers brought along was not just stories of victory of the farmers’ protest but also farewells, philanthropy and emotional bonds of a lifetime.
A year ago, farmers had left for Delhi to protest against the three contentious farm laws and camped at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders till the laws were repealed on November 19, 2021. Farmers under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of 32 farmers’ unions, finally lifted their protest on December 11.
Among many stories of farmers’ generosity was that of Gurmukh Singh from Dhakowal village, Hoshiarpur district. He is the only farmer to have constructed a three-room cemented house at Singhu.
This was the same house which later became the office of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) (Doaba), headed by president Manjit Singh Rai.
Talking to The Wire, he said, “We had already planned that whenever we will leave Singhu, we will dismantle the house and take the bricks along to construct a ‘Kisan Morcha Memorial’ at our village. In fact, many fellow farmers also took the bricks of this house to construct memorials at their villages. But before dismantling it, I handed over the household stuff including fans, coolers, ACs, washing machine, LCD, bed and other things to local people.”
Not just charity, he also came back home with a promise that he made to a woman, who used to work at their langar sewa. “I have promised the woman that I will perform the marriage of her daughter. Besides marriage, we will also fund her education. And if I don’t live long, my sons will fulfill my promise.”
Gurmukh owns around 150 acres of agricultural land in Hoshiarpur while his family is based in the US, Canada and Italy.
The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) officials had lodged a case against him for constructing the house at Singhu. When NHAI officials questioned him for constructing the house, he pointed out to them that “you lodged a case against me for illegally occupying your road. This is exactly why we are protesting. Our lands will also be occupied by corporations, which we will not let happen. When they were leaving, I told them ‘Hun chalya pata apni cheez da dukh ki hunda’ (Now you know, how much it pains to see your property getting ruined)?”
Similarly, Gurdeep Singh, an M.Phil student from Panjab University, Chandigarh, who was running a ‘Bahujan Library’ at the Singhu border, reached home after donating 2,000 books to avid readers at the protest. “I had gone to Singhu with two bags full of books. When I was about to come back to Chandigarh, I had over 30 bags of books. Most of the books were on History and the struggle of Punjab, people’s rights, literature on B.R. Ambedkar and others. As people used to donate books to our library during the protest, we considered it our duty to distribute them among readers, who were serious about these subjects,” he said.
Another farmer from Fatehgarh Sahib district, who did not wish to be named, also said, “After the January 26 tractor march violence at the Red Fort, when the government had snapped water and electricity connection at Singhu, the locals of Kundli village helped us with water supply and hose pipes. Before coming to Punjab on December 11, we gifted LCDs, refrigerator and ACs to some local friends. When we started leaving for Punjab, they came to bid us goodbye.”
While several items were donated to locals at the protest sites, the farmers, even after returning to their homes, handed over dry ration, mattresses, blankets, tents and beds to local gurdwaras and village panchayats.
Tony Sandhu, a renowned name from Singhu border, who ran 24X7 langar sewa, donated a truck full of dry ration to Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar.
Avtar Singh, the owner of Life Care Foundation from Mohali, who ran the free of cost ‘Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Hospital’ at Singhu, served as a lifeline for the farmers. While going back home, he said, “We brought the ‘bamboo hut’ to Bathinda, in which we used to provide medical services on a truck. We also brought our hospital, which was set up in a tractor, to Cholang village in Jalandhar to serve people here.”
Even the children, who used to visit Singhu daily, came to see off the farmers and requested them to stay back.
Jagtar Singh, an elderly farmer from Moga, said, “We gifted whatever we could give to children at Singhu. But it was heartbreaking to see the kids turning emotional. Tears welled up in our eyes too. We hugged them with blessings for a better future and came home.”