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Thursday, December 02, 2021

In farm stir, genesis of an army of farmer activists

The year-long farmer agitation has taught the farmers how their unity may force the authorities to listen to their grievances.

Written by Sukhbir Siwach | Fatehabad |
November 20, 2021 11:25:39 am
A farmer reacts after PM Modi announced the repealing of the three farm laws, at Singhu Border in New Delhi on Friday. (Photo: PTI)

What is the biggest achievement of farmer agitation? Replies, a farmer from village Buthan Kalan, Chander Bhan Dhaka, 60, “We have learned to fight for our rights and win too.” It may be the issue of a stolen car, shortage of DAP fertiliser and demand for issuance of tubewell connections, everything is on the radar of farmers during their stir against three farm laws. Not only this, now there is an army of farmer activists with village level committees of farmer outfits are being formed in Haryana and Punjab.

The year-long farmer agitation has taught the farmers how their unity may force the authorities to listen to their grievances. They don’t fear the policemen anymore, they have started questioning them and arguing with them, if they are not heard. There are several instances when the agitator farmers have forced the authorities to take note of their small grievances which were not even an issue of any agitation earlier.

Take the example of the theft of a farmer’ car when it was parked outside Tohana police station on June 7. Then the farmers had gathered there to protest against the arrest of their comrades in connection with the protest against Tohana JJP MLA Devender Babli. For the recovery of the car, the farmers started protesting in front of Tohana DSP’s office on June 14. “As many as 200 farmers gathered outside the DSP’s office in response to a WhatsApp message, despite it being the paddy sowing season,” said Mandeep Nathwan, a farmer leader from Fatehabad. When the farmers were staging a protest to demand recovery of the car on June 14, Tohana DSP Birem Singh went to the agitators and said, “We are also sorry that a farmer has lost his car. He is a poor fellow and I believe that the vehicle was not covered under insurance. We will try our best to recover the vehicle. You, too, cooperate with us and tell us if you have any suspicion on anyone.”

Farmers say they had immediately informed the police about the theft of the car and insisted that the police should have installed nakas to ensure the vehicle’s recovery. However, police officials told them that the entire police force of the area was busy in law-and-order duty on June 7, as hundreds of farmers were camping inside the police station as part of their agitation. When the police failed to recover the car, they started an indefinite dharna in front of the DC office in Fatehabad. They lifted the dharna only when the police finally recovered the car.

A local farmer leader Sandeep Singh says: “A farmer had lost his motorcycle in Hisar after a lathicharge on farmers on May 16 when they were staging a protest against the Chief Minister there. The farmers warned to launch an agitation if the motorcycle was not recovered. Ultimately, a police official assured either the motorcycle will be recovered or the affected farmer will be duly ‘compensated’.” The farmers resorted to protests and road blockage against the shortage of DAP fertiliser too.

In another case, the farmers of Kandela village had planned to block Jind-Chandigarh National Highway if a farmer from their village — Bajinder Singh, 30, who had gone missing after the farmers’ “tractor parade” in Delhi on January 26 — was not traced by June 19 this year. The villagers had taken to the streets on June 11 too on the same issue, prompting Jind deputy commissioner Aditya Dahiya to discuss the matter with the district SP Waseem Akram.

After seven and half months, Bajinder had returned home reportedly when an NGO located him in Delhi.

In a separate incident, on June 14, a delegation of farmers had approached officers of the irrigation department in Hisar seeking an early resolution to their problems. Farmer leaders say the officials had ensured prompt purchase of wheat in a village of Fatehabad, when they had warned of launching an agitation against what they said were “odd” conditions being imposed by authorities on wheat purchase.

They also said that their ultimatum to launch an agitation against delay in issuance of electricity connections for tubewells has also worked, with the government announcing a timetable to release pending connections.

Farmer leader Mandeep Nathwan said sections of the society these days looked up to the strength of farmers’ unity. “A few days ago, workers of a government-affiliated body were on a dharna at Ratia and were not being heard by the authorities. The protesters claimed that the work of security and other related things was being given to a private firm, which was offering a salary in the range of just Rs 4,500-Rs 5,000 in place of Rs 13,500-Rs 18,000 as promised. When we intervened, the authorities assured us to provide a contract which would ensure the same salary to the workers which was being offered to them earlier. The authorities there also agreed to release the pending salary of four labourers and improve their working conditions. The workers of the government-affiliated body have now installed flags of the farmer unions there,” claimed Nathwan, who is the convener of Kisan Sanghrash Samiti Haryana.

The farmer leader further added, “Organised farmers were already a strength in the Malwa belt of Punjab, where the farmers have been raising their voice unitedly for a long time. This was not a popular option in most parts of Haryana before the farm agitation started, despite the existence of some farmer unions. Now, the farmer unions are truly evolving. Earlier, the farmers were forced to offer bribes to get even the smallest of works done as sometimes officials took ten days to complete a work that should be completed in ten minutes. Now the farmers feel honoured to visit government offices with badges on their shirts and flags of their unions in their hands. Such is the strength of the agitation that now officers are updating us on a regular basis about the progress in the issuance of tubewell connections.”

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