Huddled in blankets inside a tent at Singhu border, four-year-old Mary watched as water dripped from the corner of the roof and asked her father M M Chandra if it would fall on them as well. The two are among over 20,000 protesting against the farm laws, and have been at the border for a week. On Sunday morning, they found themselves scrambling for cover as the capital recorded its heaviest rainfall on a single day in January since at least 2009.
The protests at Singhu started on November 26. As temperature dipped, farmers set up tents and wrapped them in plastic to insulate themselves from the cold. But Sunday’s thunderstorm tested their arrangements.
Said Kartar Singh, a farmer, “The biggest problem was that water entered the tents from below but the plastic sheets on top prevented seepage. We immediately shifted our blankets and mattresses to the centre. We are trying to make a raised platform so that even if water enters the tent, the bedding won’t be soiled.”
The first spell of rainfall, soon after 5.30 am, had the most severe impact. Since it was accompanied by wind, several makeshift tents were blown away. “There are about 50-60 people who sleep here together. When it started to rain, we huddled closer to move away from the wet areas. But we are confident that arrangements will be made. We have already got tables and will keep our mattresses on them. Other supplies are coming from our villages; the rain will not dampen our spirits,” said Chandra.
Around 9 am, farmers took stock of the damage and covered their tents and tractors with yellow tarpaulin and carried their mattresses to dry. One group used a JCB machine to clear the mud that had piled up due to the rain while another group covered the dry feed of horses with a plastic sheet. A fresh pile of dry wood, for the fires, was arranged within hours and small elevated structures were built outside some tents to stop water from entering.
At the main stage, the electrical equipment was not damaged as most of it is waterproof, said farmers. “We will be installing poles, on top of which long sheets will be used to make a canopy. The sheets are waterproof; they will cover the entire backstage area. There could be more rain in the coming days. Our effort is to ensure that the protest continues,” said a volunteer.
At the langars, packets of flour were damaged by the rainwater. The volunteers plan to build more tents; at one spot, they built a 2-ft wall to block rainwater that had collected in front of their utensils and supplies.
At the Tikri border too, the rain left a trail of damage. A group of farmers from Sangrur, who had set up five tents in the Bahadurgarh area, said the bamboo poles holding the tents fell, and all their mattresses were drenched in the rain.
Govind Singh (28), who sleeps in a tent along with four others, said, “It has been quite cold for the last few days. The rainfall has made it even more difficult.” On Sunday afternoon, volunteers from Khalsa Aid distributed fresh mattresses and extra tents, he said. “We have put extra tents over the existing ones to make them secure.”
Jagdish Singh, also from Sangrur, said the rain and cold did not bother them much: “We keep eating food that keeps us warm at night. Desi geysers have been distributed. So we get warm water every day.”
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