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In Punjab, farm outfits firm on holding big dharnas, say Covid being used to silence protests

While almost all of them say that harm caused by anti-farmer polices is a bigger threat to them than Covid-19, a few even dismiss the pandemic as a “corporate conspiracy”, asserting that their protests against Centre's farm ordinances would continue even if it means breaking social distancing norms.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | September 12, 2020 9:41:55 am
farmers protest, farmers protest haryana, farmers protest punjab, punjab farmers protest, India news, Indian ExpressKisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee holds a dharna in Tarn Taran district while flouting Covid rules

Accusing the Centre and the state government of using the pandemic to try and silence their protests, farm outfits in Punjab seem united on organising big gatherings to get their message across to those in power. While almost all of them say that harm caused by anti-farmer polices is a bigger threat to them than Covid-19, a few even dismiss the pandemic as a “corporate conspiracy”, asserting that their protests against Centre’s farm ordinances would continue even if it means breaking social distancing norms.

Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee is one such farmer body that has been organising big dharnas in nine districts of Punjab with some of them being led by children, women without masks. In fact, the the Sangharsh Committee is one of the biggest farm labour organisation with a strong base in Majha region and a significant presence in the Malwa belt.

Talking to The Indian Express, Satnam Singh Pannu, who heads the Sangharsh Committee, said: “We have not worn any masks since the government announced the lockdown in March and have been organising our protests continuously along with our women and children across nine districts of Punjab…Our dharnas against government policies will continue in the normal way without following any Covid norms.”

He added: “Coronavirus is nothing but a conspiracy of the capitalist world and our governments are favouring them by letting them enter the field of agriculture so that a big loot of the farmers can take place. They will first enter in trading through three agriculture ordinances and then they will force farmers to sell their land.”

Another farmer organisation based in Malwa, which did not want its name revealed, has been organising meetings at the village-level to tell people that “Covid fear is being spread deliberately to help rich corporate houses”.

A senior leader of this outfit boasted to The Indian Express that even though they had been organising protests in violation of social distancing norms, none of their activists had tested positive for Covid-19.

But not all outfits representing farmers dismiss the pandemic as a conspiracy. In fact, majority of them agree about the threat it poses, but at the same time insist that they are in favour of big protests while adhering to social distancing norms.

Kirti Kisan Union president Nirbhiar Singh Dudike said that ending their protest against Centre’s ordinances due to fear of coronavirus would mean that wheat and paddy will be sold at half the MSP rate and hoarding of these crops will happen which was not allowed before these ordinances. “We agree that Covid-19 is there, but we cannot stop the big protests…We will die either way – due to corona or deadly policies of government. It is better then to fight instead of doing nothing due to the fear of the virus…,” he said.

Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), Ugrahan, which is one of biggest farmer organisations of Punjab, has voluntarily decided to delegate the responsibilities of dharnas and meetings to those below 50 years of age. The organisation has appointed acting president and acting general secretary from the younger lot of its activists, so that current president and general secretary can stay at home.

As several young leaders of BKU Ugrahan at the block level are conducting meetings now and all senior leaders above 50 are guiding them from home.

General Secretary of BKU Ugrahan, Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, said that they agree that pandemic is a threat, but added: “Government sees the pandemic as a golden opportunity to promote corporatisation and privatisation and make anit-farming policies…So big and permanent dharnas will be started from September 15 in Punjab against Centre’s ordinances. We will follow pandemic norms like wearing masks and maintaining the distance during the dharnas.”

He added: “Government has failed in checking the spread of the virus in Punjab and now it is defaming farmers’ outfits on the pretext that health teams are being attacked in the rural Punjab which is not true barring a few stray cases.”

Another big organisation representing farmers in the state, BKU (Dakuanda), said that they have decided to protest in full strength irrespective of the pandemic threat.

BKU (Dakuanda) General Secretary Jagmohan Singh said: “We know that the pandemic can harm us, but this harm is not bigger than the harm being caused by the bad policies of the Centre and state governments.”

He added that “pandemic or not, we cannot stop guarding the interest of the farmers”.

Interestingly, all farmer organisations are in favour of intensifying protests against the Centre’s agri ordinances from next week despite their political affiliations to different state parties.

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