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Friday, January 28, 2022

‘They will remember our parade home for years to come’

🔴 Over one year ago, these farmers from Punjab's Patiala district left their homes in a rage. They return on Saturday with a feeling of victory, with the farm laws repealed by the government.

Written by Anand Mohan J | Kurukshetra, New Delhi |
Updated: December 12, 2021 8:38:39 am
farmersFarmers return from Singhu Border to Punjab (Express photo)

Beds are stacked on the trolley of a bright blue tractor, the engine sputters to life and Punjabi music flows out of loudspeakers, its beat drowning out last-minute farewells, as a group of farmers break away from the huddle and get on to the tractor, leaving the Singhu border one last time on Saturday morning.

Over one year ago, these farmers from Punjab’s Patiala district left their homes in a rage. They return on Saturday with a feeling of victory, with the farm laws repealed by the government.

Govinder Singh (54), a former ASI posted in the BSF, stands awestruck, almost continuously for over five hours, unmindful of the cold wind, gazing at the kaleidoscope of colours that greet his tractor as it moves through a sea of people decked up in glimmering red, green and pink hues, showering him and the others with flowers.

Farmers People celebrate as farmers return home on Saturday (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Govinder says he has never before attended a parade in his life. “In fact, on Republic Day, my tractor was stopped by police during the farmers’ rally (that ended in violence). Today I am finally part of a parade. I think they will remember this parade for years to come,” he says.

In this parade, the farmers are marching to giant drums that keep up vigorously with the bhangra music. Someone or the other breaks into a dance, adding to the sense of carnival on the journey home to Punjab.

farmers There was a carnivalesque atmosphere as farmers returned from the Singhu Border (Express photo)

At Sonipat toll plaza, non-functional like the others since the protest began, Lakhvinder Singh (39) leads his 14-year-old son Harmeet Singh away from the tractors for a spot of bhangra. In Lakhvinder’s absence, Harmeet not only worked on the family’s 4-bigha farm but also learnt how to drive the tractor. “His education suffered. He had to work hard as I came to the Singhu border protest by rotation. But he has become a man and I am proud of him,” says Lakhvinder.

The scene at the Panipat toll plaza is even more joyous, with bigger crowds, bright lights and teenagers singing along to Punjabi rap. Volunteers swarm the tractors carrying trays of ladoos and kheer, insisting the farmers take them.

A wedding procession makes a halt and tells their band to play for the farmers.

Gurnam Singh (56), who has spent a lifetime on his wheat farm, says he discovered the new Punjabi music during his stint at the Singhu border. As the tractor crawls at one point, he leaps out and rushes towards a car, pleading with the occupant to come out and dance with him. The occupant, it turns out, is Kanwar Grewal, who penned songs for the farmer’s protest.

Farmers Farmers celebrate on Saturday (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Minutes later, others have spotted Grewal, and teenagers surround him seeking selfies. Grewal not just obliges but also climbs onto a tractor for a light dance, with the crowd copying his moves. “He (Kanwar) sat in protest with us. It was thanks to these musicians that the youth stayed glued to our protest,” Gurnam says.

By evening, Kurukshetra’s night sky is lit with bright firecrackers, set off at the various langars organised for the farmers. Volunteers wearing bright red and pink turbans dance before the tractors and fling petals and bananas onto the trolleys.

Ruldu Singh (65) ignores his swollen feet to dance with a group of children, though he has to break away after a few minutes. “The last time I danced was at my son’s wedding. I don’t usually dance, but today is different,” he says.

Protesting farmers celebrating at Singhu border.

At the border where Haryana makes way to Punjab, glittering paper covers the road. Men atop tractors are setting off firecrackers from the palm of their hands, as women clap and children run about in circles.

The journey from Delhi culminates here, the tiredness of travel resting lightly against the ecstasy of celebration.

Gurmeet Singh (37) has an LED light fitted atop his red tractor, creating a halo around his head. “We faced so much hardship this past one year, we were branded terrorists. It is good to have so much support, especially from the local people of Delhi,” he says.

A group that has got off the trolley of Avtar Singh (46) is now dancing.  The rice farmer says no farmer can be happy away from home. “Who wants to leave his children and protest?” But he is carrying back memories to last a lifetime and “a lot of friendships”. “I went back to say goodbye to them,” he says.

Crossing toll plaza gates into Punjab, Amanpreet Singh (57) waves at the crowds gathered to welcome them. Before he heads to his village, he punches his fist into the air to shout one more time: “Kisaan Ekta Zindabad”, “Punjab Haryana Kisan Ekta Zindabad”.

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