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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

From 60 kg tea to 125 kg rice, what it takes to feed thousands gathered on three borders

At 4 am, when everyone's still fast asleep at the Tikri border, six middle-aged men from Haryana wake up daily to prepare the first meal of the day for 6,000-plus protesters — tea and potato fritters. By the time, the first cup of tea is ready, it's 5 am.

Written by Jignasa Sinha , Amil Bhatnagar , Ashna Butani | New Delhi | Updated: December 5, 2020 12:05:45 pm
A langar set up by a gurdwara committee at Singhu feeds thousands of people every day. (Photo by Praveen Khanna)

Five hundred litres water, 200 litres milk, 50 kg sugar and 60 kg tea leaves — through the day at Tikri border, tea simmers in a 100-litre vessel for thousands of farmers protesting there since November 26. Potato fritters and tea for breakfast, some jalebi in the afternoon, and chole-rice, aloo-gobhi and kheer for lunch and dinner.

Several langars have been set up across the three main protest sites in Delhi-NCR — Ghazipur border, Singhu border and Tikri, with pavements lined with sacks of rice and vegetables and chulhas for cooking, drums of milk reaching at the crack of dawn, and cooking duties drawn out.

At 4 am, when everyone’s still fast asleep at the Tikri border, six middle-aged men from Haryana wake up daily to prepare the first meal of the day for 6,000-plus protesters — tea and potato fritters. By the time, the first cup of tea is ready, it’s 5 am. Ram Kesh Singh (52), a paddy farmer from Rohtak, said: “Every day, we prepare potato fritters, kheer, aloo-gobhi, chole and rice, all cooked in desi ghee. We got these massive utensils from Bahadurgarh, hired three cooks. This is our sewa for all the other protesting farmers.” The group buys fresh vegetables daily from mandis nearby, and also accepts produce donated by well-wishers. Over 100 kg of potato and cauliflower is peeled and kept aside for dinner.

Maan (42), a farmer from Jhajjar who is a part of another kitchen, said, “People are donating groceries; we are blessed. Today morning, a man gave us 100 cans of drinking water. We have 17 trucks, some given by transporters, and they ferry milk and vegetables.” A small-scale kitchen operates in another corner, where eight elderly farmers peeled onion and potatoes for a meal for 100. Sardoor (60) from Punjab said, “We go back home every three days and return with ghee, milk and daal. This is our mini pind… In the last six days, we have used three tonnes of ghee. We are here to stay, that truck is our bedroom.”

At the Ghazipur protest site, a makeshift kitchen operates below the flyover, and on Friday, there is pulao, dal and aloo-gobhi for lunch. Help has come in from the volunteers of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, who’ve prepared 2.5 quintal dal, 125 kg rice, and 2 quintal of vegetables. Tarsem Singh from the committee said, “The food is enough to serve thousands.” With many sugarcane farmers at the protest site, sweets made of jaggery have been a constant snack since the protests began. While many relied on the langar, others had set up their own kitchens along the road. With a gas, stove and enough ration for six months, Mandeep Singh (39) prepared lunch for himself and around 20 others. He said, “We packed up whatever we could and left from our hometown, Pilibhit.”

At Singhu border, where the maximum number of protesters have gathered, a langar set up by a gurdwara committee from Punjab’s Hoshiarpur feeds nearly 10,000 people every day. The farmers have carried more than 10 gas cylinders, over 500 kg ingredients, large dishes, frying pans, steel spatulas, disposable plates and glasses and dustbins.

“We have more than 50 people working at the langar at all times. We start early in the morning and it goes on till 10 pm. Today we have matar paneer, dal and rice for lunch along with jaggery lassi and kheer… If we run out of gas, we get it filled from the nearest station. We have enough food for at least two months,” said Udham Singh, a farmer from Hoshiarpur.

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