The Punjab farmer is not ploughing a lonely furrow. He is protesting, he is raising his voice — backed by a collective and well-coordinated effort. So there are voluntary donations, contribution of dry ration, arrangement of transport and de-centralised system which have kept this month-long protest going on.
Although farmers have been organising protests and dharnas since mid-June, they intensified their protest since October 1 when an indefinite rail roko and dharnas at toll plazas, private petrol pumps and storage houses started. Thirty farmer unions are taking part in this protest at more than 100 places in Punjab.
Many donors sitting abroad send funds to the unions with which they are attached. “Donations are voluntarily made twice a year — after crop harvesting of rabi and kharif crops. For regular members, we make it mandatory to donate as per the area under agriculture and liabilities,” said Jagmohan Singh Patiala, general secretary of BKU (Dakaunda). These days paddy procurement has been done. Therefore, funds are being collected by almost every farmer organisation from regular members while the rest can do it voluntarily. Mostly farmers donate a part of the procured crop (wheat or paddy) to their village units, which sell it in mandis and the money is kept in the union’s village unit account. Dry ration like wheat flour, rice and pulses are also donated by farmers on a regular basis at each dharna site. Milk is collected from the entire village before going to dharna site on a daily basis. At times vegetables are donated by some vegetable growers or we purchase them as well. Similarly, we purchase sugar, tea leaves and disposable utensils,” Jagmohan said.
He said, ”Our Muslim vegetable growers/wholesalers donated vegetables at Malerkotla as well as Sangrur’s dharna spots for many days despite the fact that tomatoes and onions are going out of the common man’s reach. We mostly cook pulses, roti or once in a while namkeen or meethe chawal are made. As Punjab’s staple food is wheat, we need more of wheat flour. “
Villagers also donate ration at village gurdwaras where langar is cooked and later brought to the dharna site by sewadaars on a daily basis. “Punjab’s tradition of langar can never let anyone sleep hungry. People donate money at dharna sites as well. Most of these are non-farmers,” Jagmohan said.
BKU (Ugrahan) has 69 dharnas going on at toll plazas and petrol pumps. Every day roster is made and duties are assigned to village units near the dharna sites on a rotation basis for bringing cooked langar to dharna site along with milk. Tea is made at the site and cooked food is served to people sitting at dharna. People who sleep at dharna sites sometimes make fresh chapatis in the evening while cooked dal/ vegetable comes from village units during the day itself,” said Sukhdev Singh, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan).
The Ugrahan group collects funds twice a year from village units after wheat and paddy procurement.
Kisan Mazdoor Sangrash Committee (KMSC) has been organising rail roko since September 24 at select locations. President of the outfit Satnam Singh Pannu said, ”On a daily basis, some villagers come to dharna sites and go back by evening. Every morning, they bring fresh milk and cooked chapatis. These are kept at a common langar site being managed by kar sewaks. Milk is used for making tea. We have been using wheat procurement funds since September to pay for tents and sound system. Now paddy procurement season’s donations will be helping us in our long struggle ahead.”
Village units of farmer unions collect funds at village levels. These funds are then used for to and fro movement of union and non-union members to dharna sites via tempos, trolleys, mini-buses and buses. Sometimes, few union members use their vehicles and later take fuel charges from the union. Men and women come in separate vehicles while youngsters come on their bikes. Village units already have funds in their accounts which are being used for transportation of villagers at dharna sites.
Membership fee of most of the unions is taken once in two years and it is nominal — Rs 20 only. Many non- members also come to these dharnas on a daily basis. BKU (Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh said before paddy harvesting started, more than 75,000 people used to come at various dharna spots on a daily basis. Now the number has come down to 50,000.
Tent/ sound system
Payment for tents and sound system is made mostly on a weekly basis from the unions’ accounts. Union members maintain that they have not calculated the exact expenses but it must be huge. Jagmohan said, ”At Sangrur railway station nearly 10-11 unions had organised combined dharna for 21 days and our collective expenses at one site was around Rs 4 lakh, including all expenses. Donors are generous. As from langar point of view, Punjab is blessed with a habit of donating and the remaining expenses are managed through collections from villagers and voluntary donations. Some donors sitting abroad are also helping.”
Sukhdev said, ”People concerned with farming are donating from abroad as well. Tiny contributions by the masses are making these morchas run.”
Village units, block units, district units and later state units run in a decentralised manner. As such, no confusion happens in assigning duties to farmers. Farmer unions had also distributed ration kits to the needy in villages during lockdown.
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