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As cars honked away at the heart of the capital city, a haze of men in blue, brown and green uniforms bordered its intersection. However, every now and then, select buses were reluctantly allowed to pass through this haze that only seemed to be increasing with every blink of an eye. The buses that unfolded a new chapter in the history of what is perhaps the longest resistance movement in the country ever were welcomed by an army of officers almost ten times more.
The ‘Kisan Sansad’ – literally translating to ‘farmers’ parliament’ – at Jantar Mantar was followed by the Monsoon Session of the parliament that began on July 19. In almost walking distance to the gathering of ministers of parliament, groups of 200 out of the thousands of farmers stationed at Singhu and Tikri borders for almost a year now have been allowed to gather till August 9. However, this gathering is nowhere close to anything this country with its exemplary histories of dissent has witnessed before.
This time, triggered by the absolute lack of attention and concern that the sitting government has shown towards the plight of more than 14.5 crore – by its own estimation – farmers, the community decided to speak in a language that the government is most probable to understand. By simulating consecutive sansad sessions every day, the farmers have decided to argue their case against the three farm laws that directly disrupt their livelihoods – just like they should have been debated in parliament. And they sure hope that their voice is loud enough to echo in its neighbouring parliament in the next few weeks as well, since their past year of soaking in unbearable weather conditions and waves of the pandemic evidently did not. July 23 (Friday) was their first day in session.
As a series of barricades were lined miles before the modest gathering of protesters and then just in front of them, the sight at Jantar Mantar was oddly peculiar on Friday. Mediapersons hurdled around the firm barriers overseeing a ‘Police Post Jantar Mantar’ board, while any other member attempting to join the crowd to express their solidarity was ushered out almost immediately.
Members of opposition political parties walked in to support the farmers, while food and medical vans drove by, penetrating an almost circle-like diameter that read ‘Delhi Police’. Buses filled with Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and other police personnel joined an already overwhelming number of officers to guard the barricades, while a line of protective riot shields laid on the footpaths next to them. A gathering that was ought to be a strictly peaceful demonstration of a protest that has been ongoing for over a year felt almost like a war zone.
“We are just here to show what a parliament that cares about their biggest and oldest community may look and sound like,” said a farmer who has been at the Singhu border for the past eight months, and represents himself as one of the hundreds in the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) – a conglomeration of more than 40 Indian farmers’ unions. However, much like the inadvertent rule at the sights of Singhu and Tikri borders, while leaders representing political parties may express solidarity, none were allowed to tamper and give official statements on behalf of the community.
And as the first session of the ‘Kisan Sansad’ commenced – with each member given four to five minutes to make their argument – the speakers of the house began with introducing their agenda for the next few days. They shall sit to evaluate and critique all the three farm laws – the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 alongside the downfalls of the Central government dismantling the system of minimum support price (MSP). And most importantly, they shall pay homage to the farmers who have lost their lives since the beginning of the protests. Just like the sitting parliament should.
“The entire world is talking about this movement. Why isn’t our government?” was a question that was asked by almost every Union leader at the sight. However, as the farmers’ community has their next few days of debates distinctly sketched out for them, they have made clear that they are unhinged by the involvement of state and non-state members in their movement. They have made clear that the movement is and always has been of the farmers, by the farmers, and for the farmers.
And as the next 15 days lay in front of the rotating-yet-one 200, this sansad is perhaps the biggest demonstration of democracy that the country has ever witnessed. For a community that was accused of being unaware and downright not literate enough to understand what they have been protesting about for the past year, it has come together to prove that there is no doubt that they do.
For the people who are allegedly ‘anti-nationalists’, they have come to show Delhi what nationalism is truly about. For the farmers who were almost forgotten, they have come back to remind us that they are right where they ought to be. And they shall speak, no matter how many more barricades, and how many more men in blue and brown and green that may be stationed in front of them.
The author is a human rights’ researcher at Karwan-e-Mohabbat (New Delhi).