“I am here today to represent my father who is a marginal farmer with just 2 acres of land in Bathinda’s Budlad Mehma village. He is harvesting his crop and I am here in his place to raise slogans against the three ‘black laws’ passed by the Centre.”
This is how 17-year-old Maninderpal Kaur, a Class 12 student, started her rousing address to protesting farmers during a chakka jam protest at the Jeeda toll plaza on the outskirts of Bathinda.
As gathering made up of men, women and children listened with rapt attention, Kaur went on to link privatisation in education with that threat posed by privatisation in agriculture.
“I am a student and I can feel the pinch of privatisation. I was in a reputed CBSE school of Bathinda till Class 10, but financial constraints forced me to shift to PSEB-affiliated school which has far lesser fee. Hence, privatisation in education has made it unaffordable for common man and the same is going to happen in agriculture when farming will be in hands of private companies and we will beg for prices of our own produce,” she said.
Kaur’s father, Mandeep Singh Brar, is an active union member, while she has been coming to the dharna for the past 5 days.
Equally fluent in English, the 17-year-old told The Indian Express, “I am the only daughter of my father and hence, I am aware of farming and I try to help my father as much as I can…This struggle is going to be long and we need to be patient to get results. I think farmer unions may fight a legal battle as well.”
The Class 12 student wasn’t the only student at the protest. There were others who had turned up to support farmers’ cause.
Pawandeep (22), a BCA graduate from Budlad Mehma village who is preparing for IELTS, said,”I came with my mother Veerpal Kaur. My father does night duty as a security guard and so, he could not come. We have 2 acres of land for farming. We, the women of the house, are at the forefront.”
She added: “Around 40 women from our village came for this chakka jam. Many had minor kids too. We all came on our own as it is a mass movement. Each and every household is involved in this struggle.”
Her mother Veerpal said, “Power cuts are also being imposed these days by the Punjab government. Morning power cuts are there from 6-10 and we finish our work by that time. When we come back to our houses, in the evening too power cuts are imposed from 6-8 pm. So, we are learning to work in houses without power, but we are still coming on a daily basis.”
Happy Singh, another 22-year-old college student who hails from Bhokra village, also addressed masses at this dharna. This dharna had over 5,000 farmers and their families in attendance.
Part of the crowd was an 8-year-old, Harmandeep Singh, raising slogans for farmers.
Jagseer Singh, farmer leader of BKU (Ugrahan), said, “This child comes on a daily basis on his own with his family or neighbours.” Villagers from 29 villages came to the dharna site including Jhumba, Teona, Sivian, Dansingh Wala, Deon Jeeda, Budlad Mehma. Tea was served to farmers when they arrived for the dharna at noon. Earlier in the morning, a team of youngsters came to clean the dharna site and remove trash.
“This is a regular practice at every dharna site. A team of youngsters cleans the area in the morning. These teams keep on changing on rotation basis. A total of 600 litres of milk was consumed at our site in serving tea. All milk was brought by villagers themselves. Cooked langar was also brought by villagers which was served at 2 pm. Today, we served dal and roti along with pickle. But sometimes, few persons voluntarily organise langar of jalebi, pakore, poori chhole, kulche -chhole, meethe and namkeen chawal, halwa etc as well,” said Jagseer Singh, who was the key speaker along with block president of BKU(Ugrahan), Amrik Singh. Harjeet Singh Jeeda from Democratic Teachers front also addressed the farmers. Over 10 speakers addressed the dharna before 4 pm. While others left after that, around 50 persons will tonight sleep on the road at the site. Friday morning, it will be yet another day of dharna.
“Thursday was the 36th day of dharna at Jeeda toll plaza,” said Pawandeep Kaur while getting ready to board a tempo to go back to her village.
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