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From rooftop protests, to tractor rallies, to ‘Delhi Chalo’: A timeline of farmers’ movement

The farmers' protests didn’t happen overnight. They had started protesting against agricultural laws in June, just a day after the ordinances were first introduced.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | New Delhi | Updated: December 4, 2020 2:13:36 pm
Farmers Protests, Farm laws 2020, Delhi chalo, Delhi, Punjab, HaryanaFarmer Harinder Singh, 28, stands next to his tractor parked on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border. (Image/AP)

Farm Ordinances were first tabled in the Union Cabinet on June 5, became Bills when introduced in Lok Sabha on September 14, and ultimately Acts after they were passed in Parliament and got the President’s approval on September 27. However, farmers had started raising objections from June 6 itself, a day after the ordinances were first tabled by the Centre, protesting in a phased manner from their rooftops and common places in their villages. RAAKHI JAGGA tracks the farmers’ movement from the very beginning:

How did it all start?

An immediate reaction to this move was the burning of effigies of the NDA in hundreds of villages of Punjab on June 6. However, the farm union leaders kept studying the ordinances for another week. On June 14, a detailed press statement was issued by the BKU (Ugrahan), strongly objecting to the ordinances, stating that these would “kill farming”. The statement also expressed their fears of agriculture landing in corporate hands.

From June 14 to 30, villagers used to stand on their rooftops for an hour, objecting to these ordinances while adhering to Covid-19 guidelines against social gatherings. It started with a few houses on June 14. Within a fortnight, it was being done in over 500 villages of Punjab. “We stood on rooftops with party flags and posters against farm ordinances from 9 to 10 am.

To our surprise, many kept on standing till noon as well. On the same day, in limited gatherings (less than 50 persons). we also went to the offices of sub-divisional magistrates and submitted memorandums to be sent to the Prime Minister,” said Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan).

This started happening in around 14-15 districts of Punjab. On July 13, power corporation employees did all-India protests against the Electricity Act, 2020, and farmers supported them. The next day, farmers protested against the state government’s directions against social gatherings amid a pandemic.

How and when did all the farm unions come together?

On July 20, effigies of the then SAD-BJP alliance were burnt in several villages, started by the 11 main farmer unions of the state including BKU (Ugrahan), BKU (Dakaunda), Kirti Kisan Union, Kul Hind Kisan Union etc. The next day, 11 farm unions joined hands to protest in coordination.

It was decided that all unions will protest separately, but follow a common programme. Hence, these unions organised a joint tractor March on July 27 — they travelled on tractors from their respective village and submitted memorandums with their MPs.

In Bathinda, this march was led by 17-year-old Baldeep Kaur, who drove the tractor herself to submit a memorandum to then Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

Over 25,000 tractors had come out on roads on a single day. Tractors became a symbol of the protest after that. On September 17, the AAP had organised a tractor march followed by Congress on September 20. SAD too held 2-3 tractor marches against the farm Bills. The BJP, meanwhile, organised a tractor march in favour of the Bills.

What happened after the tractor march of July 27?

The incident of 17-year-old Baldeep Kaur driving a tractor to submit a memorandum to Harsimrat spurred a lot of youth into joining the farmers’ movement. On July 29, 11 unions met again and decided to send yet another memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.

In the first week of August, farmers started going visiting their respective DCs’ offices to submit these memorandums. Days later, meetings at the village-level had begun. By now, meetings regarding the farm Bills had started in Haryana as well. The All India Kisan Sangrash Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) had organised a number of meetings on this issue till August.

On August 19, all the 31 farmer unions of Punjab, including khet mazdoor (farm labourer) unions, decided to work in coordination. “This has happened for the first time as the cause was so big, hence we had to get together,” said Buta Singh Burjgill, BKU (Dakaunda) president. Not only this, all 31 unions decided to work in coordination with the AIKSCC so as to follow the all-India calls on farm ordinance issues with an aim to have maximum impact.

On August 25, BKU (Ugrahan) started doing nakabandi in villages, under which they displayed posters stating that SAD, BJP leaders are now allowed in villages. This lasted till August 29, but they continued their dharnas at the village entrance gates.

From September 7-10, a ‘Jail bharo Andolan’ was organised by all 31 farm unions and they sent memorandums to the PM yet again. This time, the gatherings were larger. Hence many of them were detained and booked in Mansa, Fazilka etc.

On September 9, there were protests against FIRs lodged against farmers for violation of section 144 Crpc, Covid guidelines etc. “Protests continued in Haryana. In August, similar protests began in 20 other states,” said Jagmohan Singh Patiala, member of AIKSCC.

A major turning point of the movement was the police lathi charge on farmers when the latter were trying to reach a rally venue at Pipli, Haryana. “We protested against the lathi charge on Haryana farmers at Pipli on September 11 in Punjab,” said Patiala.

As the movement started gathering support from farmers, on September 16, the Punjab CM announced that all FIRs against farmers will be withdrawn, but appealed them to follow Covid guidelines and ensure social distancing. Meanwhile, Punjab’s farmer unions declared their plans to organise a ‘Punjab bandh’ that included road and rail blockades on September 25.

How did the protest intensify?

Towards the end of July, Modi made a statement in favour of ordinances, due to which the farmer’s effigy burning planned on July 20 got extended till July 26. When the ordinances became Bills after they were tabled in Parliament on September 14, Punjab’s 31 farmer unions organised ‘Lalkar’ rallies the same day at Phagwara, Patiala, Barnala, Amritsar and Moga, in which they asked Akali Dal to clear their stand as the party was in alliance with BJP at that time and their workers were facing stiff opposition in villages.

The bridge of Harike Pattan and Beas were blocked by the Kisan Mazdoor Sangrash committee (KMSC) in Tarn Taran, Amritsar areas from September 12 onwards, and ‘pakka morcha’ outside the houses of former CM Parkash Singh Badal and PUDA ground in Patiala (CM’s hometown) had been started by BKU (Ugrahan) on September 15. “This happened as the Bills were being passed in Parliament and the PM’s speech in Parliament asserted that he was firm on these Bills.S o we also had to intensify our protest,” said Kokrikalan.

What impact did the protests have on Punjab’s politics?

The Punjab CM announced the withdrawal of all FIRs lodged over violation of Covid guidelines and section 144 CrPC against farmers and extended his support in Bathinda MP and SAD leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned as Union food processing minister on September 17, citing farm bills as the main reason.

The biggest political change happened on September 27. When the President gave assent to these Bills, the Akali Dal broke its 27-year-old alliance with BJP in Punjab.

What happened after that?

The ‘rail roko’ protest started on September 24, organised by KMSC and BKU (Ugrahan) at 12 locations. On September 23, all 31 farmer unions announced they would start ‘rail roko’ from October 1, along with dharnas outside malls, petrol pumps of corporates and even outside the residences of BJP leaders.

“We started protests in a phased manner but when we were not heard, we had to come out on roads, block tracks and even roads. People need to know that when governments are deaf, we have to follow these methods, as they did not listen to us, did not talk to us despite our protests and passed the Bills in Parliament. Many people on social media now ask why we block tracks, roads. So this is our answer to them,” said AIKSCC working group member Dr Dharampal.

‘Rail roko’ continued till October 21 and later the Centre itself suspended train services till November 23 stating that services would resume only when freight and passenger trains will run together. Even now, limited passenger trains are being run but freight trains are on track. On November 5, a nationwide ‘Chakka jam’ took place, and the ‘Delhi Chalo’ movement began on November 25.

How many times did the Centre reach out to farmers?

The Centre reached out to farmers for the first time on October 7, four months after the farmers first objected to the farm ordinances. Farmers were invited on October 8 to Delhi to learn about agricultural reforms. This invite was rejected by farmer unions. Later, they went on October 13 but boycotted that meeting as no minister was present.

Instead, 8 Union ministers had started virtual conferences in Punjab to explain agricultural reforms through farm Acts. Earlier, the BJP had formed an 8-member panel in Punjab to talk to farmers on October 3.

Farmers had another meeting with the Centre on November 13, then on December 1, and the latest on Thursday. But no conclusion has been reached so far. They have yet another meeting with farmers on December 5.

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