Khanauri (Punjab): “This route is steeped in history, you know. It is the same route that Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikhs took, while on his way to Delhi, where he attained martyrdom. And this is the route which we are taking too on our way to Delhi. Earlier, we were fighting against the Mughals. Today, it is the Modi government. We will rise up against every kind of oppression,” said 54-year-old Jagmeet Singh, a farmer from the Sangrur district of Punjab.
Jagmeet is one of the tens of thousands of farmers who are making their way to Delhi in order to protest the controversial farm laws passed by the Modi government in September.
The laws were passed with a view to open up the agricultural sector to free-market forces, with the government hoping that private sector investment will stimulate growth in the country’s agricultural sector. Farmers, however, have slammed the laws as being ‘pro-corporate’, and have alleged that private players will dominate the agricultural sector and push out farmers with small landholdings.
Farmers traveling to Delhi via National Highway 52 near town Khanauri are drawing inspiration and courage from Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom, as they exert pressure on the government to repeal three farm laws it has recently enacted.
“The way Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji arose as ‘Hind di Chadar’ and became a prominent voice for the oppressed, the same way, the people of Punjab are going to hold the Modi government answerable for its anti-farmer and anti-people policies. The guru came to the aid of Kashmiri Pandits by sacrificing his own life for them. This time too when the government repealed Article 370, Punjabis stood with our Kashmiri brothers and sisters,” said Beant Singh, a PhD scholar from Punjabi University, Patiala.
The protesting farmers and workers have also slammed the allegations of Khalistani allegiance, and have tried to highlight the secular nature and mass support which the protests have garnered.
Gurpreet Kaur, a leader of a farmers’ body in the Patiala district told The Wire that people from all faiths and castes are participating in the protests, with a large number of women playing an instrumental role in the protests.
“This fight of ours stems from desperation. We need to save our fields, our land, our food. We have already burnt effigies of Narendra Modi, Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani on Dussehra. It is now time to show the government the power of kisaan-mazdoor (farmer-worker) unity.”
Lachhman Singh Sewewala, general secretary of the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, echoed Gurpreet’s concerns. “This fight is for our very existence. The government has raised the issue of Coronavirus in order to try and derail the movement. In this backdrop, it is important to realise one thing. While COVID-19 does not kill all those infected, starvation kills whoever it affects. If we do not fight today, we will go hungry tomorrow,” he said.
Sewewala, however, struck a more positive note, as he claimed that these protests would show the country how to fight against oppressive regimes.
“The farmers are fighting not just for their own issues, but for issues which concern the nation. While on the one hand, we have demanded that the farm laws be repealed, on the other hand, we have also asked for all innocent students, leaders, journalists, academicians, and teachers who have been wrongfully incarcerated by the state, to be released as soon as possible.
The way Guru Tegh Bahadur ji emerged as a beacon of hope under the tyrannous rule of Aurangzeb, the people of Punjab will today lead the nation towards a more hopeful and brighter future,” he observed.