With Rs 100 in his pocket, a pair of extra pants and a bedsheet, 55-year-old khet mazdoor Shivaji Vinayak Rao Bhairav began his 1,080-km journey from Maharashtra’s Chandwad on Monday and reached Shahjahanpur near the Rajasthan and Haryana border on Friday.
“I’m the only breadwinner in my family of five people, and before leaving from home I told them that I’ll only return when the three farm laws are withdrawn. If the farm owner isn’t paid the sum he deserves, I won’t get the money I deserve either. This is about my livelihood too,” said Bhairav, one of the 1,000-plus farmers, including farm labourers, who have travelled from Maharashtra to participate in the ongoing protest at Shahjahanpur, 130 km away from Delhi.
For two weeks, thousands of farmers from Rajasthan and Haryana have been protesting at the NH8 after they were stopped by the Haryana government from proceeding to Delhi’s Singhu and Tikri borders. The cavalcade of 50 vehicles from Maharashtra reached the Shahjahanpur protest site around 12.45 pm.
From Maharashtra’s Akola, Dagdu Ekhande (40) and Kalu Kathore (35) have reached Shahjahanpur in a tempo, with 15 others. “We earn Rs 100 a day for a day’s work. By being here I lose my livelihood every day but this is important. We slept in schools and in gurdwaras on the way. We will go to Delhi too,” he said.
Scenes similar to Singhu and Tikri borders in Delhi played out at Shahjahanpur too — a stage set for speeches, posters and flags, tractors and trolleys as far as the eye can see, at least five big langars, and tents in a row.
From Miran village in Haryana’s Bhiwandi is farmer Dilbagh Siwach (50). He reached Shahjahanpur, 180 km away from his village, in his tractor nine days ago. “I packed three hookahs, blankets, mattresses and raw food. I have come prepared to protest in Delhi but the police won’t let us proceed. My wife and children are taking care of the fields and told me to stay put at the protest for as long as I want,” said Siwach. Every three days, he said, 500 litres of milk reaches the protest site from his village.
Around 1 pm, Haryana Police closed both carriageways of the Delhi-Jaipur Expressway. “We had to close both carriageways of the Delhi-Jaipur expressway due to the farmers’ protests. There was no kind of confrontation. We are speaking to farmers to at least leave one lane of the service lane open for emergency vehicles,” said Rajesh Kumar, DSP (Bawal).
Among those protesting at the site are Ram Niwas (81) from Neemrana, 14 km away, and Ratiram Vashisht (70) from a village in Alwar district, 20 km away. “I have a bad knee and can barely walk, but I am here every day for the future of my children. If they allow us to go to Delhi, I’ll go there too,” said Niwas.
Vashisht said, “The farmers aren’t the ones blocking the roads, it’s the police. We want to leave from here.”
As the last rays of the sun fell on the mustard fields on either side of the protest site on Friday, preparation for langar began again. “We had set up a langar at Tikri border for several weeks but we found out it was needed more here. So we set up a kitchen with geysers, vegetables, flour, rusk, milk. We have enough supplies to last us till 2024 or however long it takes the Modi government to take back the laws,” said farmer Bilawal Singh (32) from Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar. The langar feeds 1,000 people a day, said Singh.
Apart from Singh, sewadaars from a gurdwara in Punjab’s Patiala too have set up a langar here. As Sajjan Kaur (45) made roti with six other elderly women, she said, “There are plenty of troubles here. It’s cold, there aren’t enough bathrooms, the toilets are dirty…but we are here for the future of our children. It’s all worth it. We wake up at 4 am and begin cooking and can’t wait to do the same in Delhi… Hunn Dilli zyaada durr ni haiga (Delhi isn’t far now).”
In the evening, after farmer union leaders from Maharashtra, Haryana and Rajasthan finished their speeches, the task of setting up tents for the 1,000-plus protesters from Maharashtra began. “It will be a long night, a long journey,” said 75-year-old Baldev Singh from Sri Ganganagar.