Normal life was thrown out of gear as there was a near total shutdown across Punjab on Friday as 31 farm organisations observed Punjab bandh in protest against three contentious farm legislations passed earlier this week by Parliament.
Besides farmers, people from all walks of life, including traders, commission agents, labourers, social activists, artists, women and leaders of all the political parties in Punjab, barring BJP, poured out in support of the bandh. It is after a long while that a shutdown call has united the state in this manner.
While CM Amarinder Singh hoped that the Centre would do a rethink on the Bills after witnessing the protests, Akali Dal (Badal) president Sukhbir Singh Badal and former Union minister Harsimrat Badal led a protest at Lambi.
The protesters included Yogendra Yadav, convenor of Swaraj Abhiyan, and artistes, singers such as Sidhu Moosewala and Harbhajan Mann, besides hordes of young men and women.
The bandh was peaceful, except in Barnala district where Shiromani Akali Dal activists set afire a tractor to lodge their protest.
While, majority of the districts in all the three regions Majha, Malwa and Doaba in the state observed complete shutdown with Malwa districts like Bathinda, Mansa, Barnala Moga, Patiala and others registering massive outpouring of protestors, some commercial establishments and shops remained open in Pathankot, a BJP stronghold.
Pathankot is part of Gurdaspur parliamentary constituency which is represented by BJP MP Sunny Deol. The actor-turned-politician is supporting the Bills.
Farm leader Shiv Kumar, however, said: “We had never expected that Pathankot would shut completely. But, we got better response this time. Eight dharnas were organised on Friday in Pathankot against the Bills.”
However, in rest of Majha, farmers came out to protest in huge numbers. With dharna at every 200 metres, Doaba witnessed complete bandh.
Shops, commercial establishments, and vegetable markets at majority of the places in the state remained shut. Agitating farmers blocked all the main highways and sat on rail tracks in protest, as road transport and rail services remained suspended.
On Thursday, farmers in the state had started a three-day ‘rail roko’ stir against the Bills as they began dharnas on railway tracks.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh while appealing for a peaceful agitation is backing farmers and has assured not to impose Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which prohibits assembly of four or more persons at any given place and attracts registration of an FIR for non-compliance.
On Friday, Amarinder said he was hopeful that “pain of agitating farmers, who braved the pandemic and the heat today to protest against the Agriculture Bills, will reach the Central government, and it will gracefully back off from destroying the farm sector with such ruthless disregard for the farming community”.
Reiterating his commitment to fight the “draconian laws till his last breath”, Amarinder stated, “Maybe the distressing visuals of tens of hundreds of farmers out on roads at hundreds of locations in Punjab, and in several other states, will touch the hearts of the central leadership.”
Shiromani Akal Dal (SAD), meanwhile, lodged a protest against the farm Bills by observing ‘chakka jam’ across the state. SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is MP from Ferozepur in Lok Sabha and his wife and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who resigned as Union Cabinet minister in protest against passage of Bills early this week, led the party protests by coming out in Lambi Assembly segment on a tractor to lead a tractor rally from Badal village.
Speaking at the protest meeting at Lambi, Sukhbir said, “Chief Minister Amarinder Singh should call a Cabinet meeting immediately and come out with an ordinance to declare the entire state as a principal market yard (to circumvent implementation of the three Bills in the state).”
He further said, “Subsequent to this, the government should also hold a special session of the state Assembly. I moved this proposal two days back. The government should move quickly on this to save the future of our coming generations,” Sukhbir told newsmen later.
Terming it as “complete shutdown”, Krantikari Kisan Union leader Darshan Pal said, “Addressing the agitators, the representatives of farm unions across the state gave a call for social boycott of BJP leadership from across the country, show them black flags and stop inviting them to any events.”
Pal added, “As per the reports from the farm organisations across the state, road and railway travel remained suspended, markets, offices and other establishments remained shut during the Bandh.” Pal said farmers protested at 150 places in the state. He added that from October 1 onwards, the farm bodies in Punjab would announce a programme for indefinite rail roko in the state.
Separatist political party Dal Khalsa too joined the protesting farmers at Bhandari bridge in Amritsar and along with other Sikh bodies to urge President Ram Nath Kovind not to sign the Bills. Some Sikh preachers and Dhadhi jathas (Sikh folklore singers) also participated in the protests.
Women, artists, students join protest
Women-led protests were held at several places in Malwa. The protesters included daughters and wives of the farmers. Students were also among the protestors at many places. Amandeep Kaur Deol, who is General Secretary of Istri Jagriti Manch, addressed farmers in Nabha in Patiala district as her three-year-old daughter was taken care of other activists at the dharna site. A post graduate, 33-year-old Deol said, “Farm Bills are aimed at bringing private companies in the market and gradually farmers’ income will come down. This will leave families with no money to educate their daughters. There has been a little change in the society after farmers started their daughters to schools and colleges. To continue doing so, we need to object to these black legislations.”
In Nabha, singers Harbhajan Mann and Ranjit Bawa came out in support of supporters. Singer Sidhu Moosewala joined protest in Mansa.
Yogendra Yadav, convenor of Swaraj Abhiyan and coordinator of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, also dashed to Mansa to express solidarity with the protestors.
(With inputs from Raakhi Jagga in Ludhiana, Anju Agnihotri Chaba in Jalandhar and Kamaldeep Singh Brar in Amritsar)
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