For the past two months, farmers in Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against three farm reform bills — The Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill — passed by the Parliament in the Monsoon Session of the Rajya Sabha in September 2020. While the government claims that the reform bills will lead to the removal of the middlemen and rise in the earnings of farmers, many farmers believe that the introduction of the bills will lead to large corporations entering the agricultural sector, which accounts for 40% employment in India, and the loss of land holdings by small farmers. The bills also pose the threat of the farmers not getting a guaranteed minimum price for their produce, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
On November 26, hundreds of thousands of farmers marched to Delhi on foot and in convoys of tractors for their ‘Chalo Dilli’ march to demand loan waiver and better prices and protest the bills after two months of planning by over 500 farmer organisations only to receive extreme backlash from police officials. Not minding the chilly Delhi winters, the police attacked the peacefully protesting farmers with water cannons, tear gas, and barbed wires along with boulders and barricades to block the way of the marching farmers.
The Guardian reports, “The farmers set up camps along five major roads, building makeshift tents and setting up fires with a view to staying for months if their demands are not met.”
Photographer Akshay Kapoor, who is known in the circuit for his moving documentation, captured the fuming revolution and the labour of love behind it at the Singhu border.
Says Kapoor, “I’ve been documenting protests for over a year now but this felt like a warzone where the police thought of the protesters as enemies of the state. The farmers who are protesting know what’s right for them and what’s not. Just like you know what’s right for you. All they want is to be heard. They want to talk and want their demands met because they know it won’t benefit them – the new farm laws will only benefit the rich again. Protests are not just about shouting slogans in the face of the state or fighting the armed forces. They’re much bigger than that. It’s a revolution. It’s about taking care of each other, building morale, it’s about community, love, strength.”
Here’s a humble attempt at acquainting you with the farmers’ voices and the ongoing revolution through Kapoor’s lens, in his own words.
November 27, 2020 (Singhu Border)
Before the tear gas was fired at around 11.30 am, things were calm. Farmers were preparing food at the back, some were just waiting in their tractors and some were talking to the police.
Suddenly, multiple rounds of tear gas were fired to push the protesters away but it didn’t really have an impact on the farmers.
A couple of hours later, farmers were told that police has given them permission to enter Delhi but they didn’t remove the barricading or anything. So, the farmers took two layers of barricading themselves of barbed wires and trucks, et cetera. Police, on the other hand, shot multiple rounds of tear gas continuously, one after the other, to stop the farmers. The police later resorted to lathi-charge and then water cannons. Stones were then pelted from both sides for about 20 minutes.
Farmers have reported multiple injuries and a constable was injured too.
I’ve been documenting protests for over a year now but this felt like a warzone where the police thought of the protesters as enemies of the state.
Protests are not just about shouting slogans in the face of the state or fighting the armed forces. They’re much bigger than that. It’s a revolution. It’s about taking care of each other, building morale. It’s about community, love, and strength.
None of the godi media (lapdog media) channels would go past a group of protesters to talk to the farmers, they didn’t even try. Instead, they’d just stand at one side and feed you propaganda, they’ll call them names.
The farmers who are protesting know what’s right for them and what’s not. Just like you know what’s right for you.
All they want is to be heard. They want to talk and want their demands met because they know it won’t benefit them– the new farm laws will only benefit the rich again.
The national mainstream media won’t bring you their side but will throw their opinions on screen.
When some of us walk past, they’ll talk to us, they want people to understand what is happening and why they’re doing this. They want the government to know. They offer us food, water, and some insightful conversations.
This is what a revolution looks like. This is what resilience looks like.
November 28, 2020 ( Singhu Border)
As we crossed Delhi police’s barricading today, we saw farmers put their own barricading a few metres ahead of the police to avoid any chaos.
We moved ahead and saw farmers sitting and planning ahead. They talked about peace, about keeping the fight on. Further ahead, we saw some vegetables being cut and pakode being fried. Few metres ahead, langar seva was going on. Dadi and Nani were cooking and so were the men. Some were taking turns to take a bath.
All farmers want is to be heard, they want their demands met and not be misunderstood. Even if it takes 6 months, they’re ready for it. They are someone the kindest, sensible, and the funniest people I’ve met. If you go and meet them, they’ll laugh with you, they’ll dance with you, will educate you about the new farm laws, and feed you. They know what is right for them and it’s not the new farm laws.
November 29, 2020 (Singhu Border)
The warm light of the morning winter sun feels sweeter as you enter the protest area. It smells of tea, food, and strength. There are conversations going on at every corner, news read and hair tied. There is power, energy, and anger.
When Naveen Macro and I talked to the farmers, they asked us to write about what they’re facing.
They want the government to take back the farm laws.
They’re also facing problems with respect to washrooms and water but the people around came for help. A tubewell owner provides them with water to bathe, cook, drink. A petrol pump has opened up its doors and has provided bathrooms for them to take a shower. People who live nearby help them with washroom facilities but the government hasn’t come forward with any kind of help so far.
There are doctors who are providing free health checkups and medicines and volunteers who supply food and tea. It’s people helping people. It’s a community being built. There’s anger against the government and the way it’s handling the situation.
The farmers possess knowledge about the world, they are well-read, educated people. They know what they want and they know what they’re doing. When we leave the site, we leave it with hopes in our heart and smiles on our faces. The farmers are here to stay.
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