How to Cage a Protest: Notes From Day One of the Kisan Sansad

A little surprised at the security measures, a farmer from Karnataka said the Jantar Mantar protest site seemed 'Emergency-esque' and resembled the border with Pakistan.

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New Delhi: It was about noon, when the brown dogs began to growl. Long hours of waiting, three “security checks” and a sultry sun made mediapersons slightly edgy, but the ‘Kisan Sansad’ was not in session yet. My eyes drifted to the red sundial across the street. Between us were 80-odd yellow steel police barricades, two dozen paramilitary platoons with tear-gas bomb and grenade launchers, water cannons, hundreds of other irascible police personnel and of course growling dogs. Where was I? Wagah border, Kashmir, Tikri, Palestine?

No, this was Jantar Mantar, the historic protest site, conveniently converted into a maximum security open prison, awaiting its new inmates farmers and their leaders. Meanwhile, hundreds of us mediapersons, were stuffed into a barricaded pen for “security reasons”. The farmers’ area was on one side of the fence and the media on the other.

Soon, the police escorts with farmers’ buses started to arrive and the grey tarmac, on the farmers’ side, hosted green, yellow and red flags. As farmers advanced to the barricades hoping to converse with the media, police dissuaded them. Orders were clear, keep the media and farmers away till 2 pm.

Day 1 of the Kisan Sansad at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, on July 23, 2021. For security reasons, the farmers’ area was on one side of the fence and the media on the other. Photo: Indra Shekhar Singh

Gauging the pressure, leaders quickly disciplined their ranks, and the Kisan Sansad began. All afternoon, the Sansad discussed the farm laws and called upon representatives from different regions to discuss APMCs, Essential Commodities Act, and rising prices, among other issues. MPs from Parliament like Binoy Vishwam came to witness the proceedings too. But what did all this signify?

Hannan Mollah, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, explained, “Six hundred farmers have died, and eight months have passed, yet the government doesn’t want to discuss the farm laws. Today our peaceful resistance evolves. It seeds hope for workers, peasants and farmers, as after many years, they all are together and fighting as one force for democracy and dignity.”

Also read: Govt Doesn’t Have Data on Farmers’ Deaths Because It Hasn’t Bothered, Say Union Leaders

Explaining minor achievements, Rakesh Tikait, said, “Finally the government recognises us as farmers, they should now tell us where to sell our harvests at MSP? This is a revolution, which has now entered Delhi’s heart. Very soon, the barricades and police will go away too, and the farmers and our nation will get freedom and fair price.”

It was time for lunch (a rather late lunch), and I got talking with three farmers from Karnataka.

Chukki Nanjundaswamy, from the Karnataka State Farmers’ Association, had travelled a long way to be here. “For over eight months now, the Indian government refuses to discuss the farm laws. Their arrogance and undemocratic core is exposed. But us farmers, we believe in democracy and hence debating farm laws here. This Sansad represents hope and democracy,” she said.

But his fellow farmer Manju Kiran was a little surprised at the security measures. “We have police blockades too but never seen something like this. This is Emergency-esque and resembles the border with Pakistan,” he said.

As the clock ticked, I faded in and out of conversations with farmers on the pros and cons of the movements, listened in to talks, observed the schisms and participated in the media frenzy, to conclude that despite the odds, the Indian farmers’ revolution was successful yet again.

“The Kisan Sansad at Jantar Mantar represents a new phase of resistance. One that stands for protection of our agriculture and land from corporatisation. The farmers are now awakened from Kerala to Punjab, we won’t back down,” said K.V. Biju from Kerala.

The Kisan Sansad shall run parallel to the Monsoon Session till August 13 and overall the farmers are optimistic that Modi will start “unconditional talks” with the farmers’ unions again. But time can only tell which way the wind blows.

Jasbeer Kaur, an elderly farmer from Punjab, was hopeful. She has been encamped at Tikri border for months now. “The Modi government has already accepted defeat, just look at the security here. We are only 200 and yet they have put us in a cage. Internally the BJP knows that they are wrong, but they don’t have the moral courage to repeal these laws,” she said.

“No matter whatever hardships come our way, we will fight on peacefully and get these anti-farmer laws repealed,” she added. With her words, the ground underneath shook a little, maybe a numinous sign or another metro passing beneath us. Simultaneously, the Kisan Sansad rose, Jana-Gana-Man was sung and day one was over.

Indra Shekhar Singh is director – policy and outreach, National Seed Association of India.