100 days and 248 dead later, Indian farmers remain determined | Agriculture News


Karnal, Haryana – For nearly two months, Prem Singh, 65, followed a ritual he had unwittingly slipped into.

He left his village in the northern Indian state of Haryana on December 1, 2020, to join tens of thousands of Indian farmers staging sit-ins along the borders of the nation’s capital to demand the repeal of agricultural laws passed in September of last year.

While camping at the Singhu protest site – located along the Delhi-Haryana border – Prem made sure to call his son Sandeep, 34, back to the village every morning.

“He didn’t have his own phone,” says Sandeep, sitting in his dimly lit room in Manpura village in the Karnal district of Haryana, 260 km (161 miles) from Singhu.

“But he was using someone else’s cell phone to monitor us. I expected his call at a certain time each day. It had almost become a ritual.

This ritual came to an abrupt end on January 26.

Hitched to a tractor in Singhu with several others, Prem, around six in the evening, collapsed from the vehicle. He never came back.

“I was with him at the time,” said Joginder Singh, 36, a resident of Manpura.

“We paid tribute to him at the protest site and took his body to the village for the funeral. He became one of the many martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the cause of farmers.

In the month following the death of his father Prem Singh, Sandeep returned home to greet visitors who came to offer his condolences. [Parth MN/Al Jazeera]

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government passed three farm laws using the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) majority in parliament, farmer unions, mainly in the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, have burst of anger.

Since November 26, tens of thousands of farmers have camped at three different locations around the capital, calling on the government to withdraw laws it says put them at the mercy of private companies and destroy their livelihoods. .

As the protest enters its 100th day on Friday, at least 248 farmers have died at borders outside New Delhi, according to data collected by Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), or United Farmers’ Front.

Some have died of health problems, others by suicide, said SKM, which plans on Saturday to halt all traffic on the six-lane Western Peripheral Expressway that forms a ring outside New Delhi for up to ‘at five o’clock to continue their protest.

‘I intend to take my father’s place’

Despite the rising death toll, farmers say their commitment to the protest remains unwavering. But their active participation encountered obstacles.

In the month following Prem’s death, Sandeep was at the house to greet visitors who had come to offer their condolences.

“My mom hasn’t returned to normal either,” he says.

“She doesn’t talk to anyone. I need to be home to take care of her. But I intend to take my father’s place in Singhu once everything is settled. We have lost the main member of our family. We also need to be concerned about our income. “

With only an acre of farmland, Sandeep says the family’s main income comes from work.

“I work as a driver, my older brother works as a laborer here and there,” Sandeep explains.

“After my father died, there was one member less in the family. I need to balance my work and my time in Singhu. I can’t stop winning, but neither can I give up on protests. “

For 34-year-old Sandeep Kaur, the question is not so complicated. She has two children – ages two and five – and although she supports the agitation, she cannot actively do so.

Her husband, Manpreet, 42, had been camping in Singhu since the day the protest began.

“After spending almost a month at the border, he came home to see us,” she told Al Jazeera in a phone call.

“The next day he felt uncomfortable. The next day he died sitting in his chair. The doctor said he suffered a silent heart attack.

With very little farmland in the small town of Bhawanigarh in the Sangrur district of Punjab, Kaur can no longer afford to participate in the protests.

“I have to take care of my grandchildren,” she says. “I don’t get along with my in-laws. My father passed away three years ago. I am a small farmer and have very little support system. We have not received any help from the government either. “

Like Kaur, Sandeep Singh is also a small farmer, who grows rice and wheat largely for home consumption. The new farm laws do not directly affect him, he says.

“But they will devastate the livelihoods of farmers who own larger land holdings that depend on the minimum support price decided by the government,” he said.

“If they lose their income, they cannot employ people like us to work on their farmland.”

Roshni Singh with a portrait of her husband Shishpal, who died during the protest [Parth MN/Al Jazeera]

The families of workers who died during the protest lost hands to earn their daily wages. For those who depend more on their farmland, the problems are different.

Roshni Singh, 60, and her husband Shishpal, 72, tended two acres of their farm in the village of Gagsina, 20 km from Manpura. Shishpal’s brother, Kripal, 62, still cultivated two acres.

“We had divided the work on four acres between the two families,” says Roshni, covering her head with a scarf.

When the agitation of the farmers started around New Delhi, Shishpal had his task. “He had been at the Singhu protest site from day one,” Roshni said.

‘Juggling between protest and farmland’

During his absence, Kripal doubled down to take care of his brother’s farmland. Roshni managed the housework and started spending more time in the field than she usually did.

“That way we could participate in the protests and also maintain the farms,” she says. “It was an arrangement that seemed to work for us.”

But on January 4, Kripal received a call from a farmer in Singhu. Shishpal had suffered a heart attack and was admitted to a hospital in Sonipat town in Haryana.

“He was transferred to another hospital a day or two later,” Kripal said. “Five days after the attack, he died. We had to borrow about 300,000 rupees ($ 4,100) for her treatment. “

Shishpal is survived by two children – Sandip, 25, and Manju, 27.

“Manju is married,” says Roshni. “Sandip is in the army. My son stands at the border of the country. My husband was standing on the edge of the capital. I am proud of both. “

The day before his heart attack, Shishpal had gone home for a day. “He was absolutely perfect and upbeat,” Roshni says, with a wistful smile that deepens his wrinkles.

“He mobilized more farmers in the village to join the protests, erected a union flag on a tractor and chanted slogans. He cared deeply about the protests and was determined to see the revocation of farm laws. “

Kripal says his brother would often worry about state-regulated markets, called mandis, once private players stepped in.

“Mandis will become superfluous,” Kripal recalls of his brother, saying.

“The companies would dictate the prices and they would have a monopoly on us. Corporate power over agriculture would make us slaves on our own lands.

These words, echoing in Kripal’s ears, made him more determined to bring the protests to a successful conclusion.

“This is what Shishpal would have wanted,” he said. “I have been to Singhu several times since his death. I juggle between demonstrations and farmland. “

Every morning, Kripal wakes up and heads to his farm to water the wheat that is currently cultivated. He sprays fertilizers and pesticides if necessary.

He then walks to the land of Shishpal and repeats the process. What started as a temporary arrangement for Kripal has now become a ritual for him.





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