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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Punjab protests against farm Bills: Faces behind the farmers’ fight

The farm bills have fuelled protests from the farming community that refuse to die down. The protests are being helmed by farm outfits from across Punjab, with about a dozen farmer leaders leading from the front. The Indian Express profiles some of the leaders working to ensure that the farmers’ voice reaches those in power.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | September 22, 2020 11:24:40 am
farm bills, farmers protest farm bills, farmers protest punjab haryana, amarinder singh farm bills, sad akali dal farm bills, hardeep singh puriMembers of various farmer organisations protest against agriculture-related Bills in Patiala (Express Photo: Harmeet Sodhi)

The farm bills have fuelled protests from the farming community that refuse to die down. The protests are being helmed by farm outfits from across Punjab, with about a dozen farmer leaders leading from the front. The Indian Express profiles some of the leaders working to ensure that the farmers’ voice reaches those in power.

Jagmohan Singh (64)
General Secretary
Bharti Kisan Union (Dakaunda)

Jagmohan Singh is one of the most renowned farmer leaders of Punjab. A small farmer who became a full-time activist around three decades back, he is well-versed in farming issues and policies, is among those who make up the ‘think tank’ behind any farmers’ mobilisation in the state. He is not only the most trusted man for his own union, but the leaders of other farmers and farm labourers’ outfits also look up to him for chalking out any programme involving farmers’ agitation. Initiated into activism from a tender age, Jagmohan went behind the bars even before attaining the age of 18 years. A postgraduate and a diploma holder, he is an expert in Acupuncture therapy. His leaning towards social service and welfare began when he started imparting this skill to medicos including allopathic doctors at a large scale in Patiala as a social service. He joined Bharti Kisan (BKU) Ekta in 1993 after leaving his government job in the Department of Cooperatives. He is now the General Secretary of BKU (Dakaunda), which was formed around 15 years ago and is one of the most active farmers’ unions of the state, since its inception. He is also a member of the Association for Democratic Rights. Jagmohan even left his native place in Ferozepur district to dedicate himself to farmers’ organisation and shifted to Patiala, which was allotted as an area to him by the union. A small farmer owning nearly 5-acres land, which he has given on lease, Jagmohan’s wife working in the postal department.

“I was able to devote my time fully to farmers’ cause because there was one assured income coming in our household which was enough to meet our needs,” he said.

His involvement is there in every farm-related programme/agitation in Punjab for which he has gone to to jail six times.

Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan (70)
General Secretary
BKU, Ugrahan

A retired school teach, Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan (70), is the general secretary of one of the biggest farmers’organisation in Punjab – BKU, Ugrahan. Kokrikalan belonged to a poor family that owned owns 2.5 acres of land in village Kokrikalan of Moga district. He did his B.Sc, B.Ed in the early 1970s and was appointed government teacher in 1972. Despite being a regular and permanent teacher, he participated in a protest led by temporary teachers in 1978 demanding regularisation of jobs and went to jail for 75 days. When he saw that his father used to participate in Kisan agitations, he also started participating in such agitations and sat on a dharna for 15 days under the banner of ‘Karja Mukti Morcha’ in 1990 at Chandigarh where the house of Governor was gheraoed. He also went to jail during an agitation against the decision of former Chief Minister Beant Singh’s government, which had doubled the rates of tubewell motors. He then joined BKU’s protest against the move and finally the decision was rolled back.

“In 1997-98, when farmer suicides were just beginning to occur in the state, and a sarpanch of Sakrodi village (Sangrur District) had killed his wife, son, and himself due to debt, I was totally moved and filed my resignation at the age of 48 to work for farmers’ cause for rest of my life,” he said, adding that in 2002 he along with other formed BKU, Ugrahan, one of the biggest farmers’ organisation in Punjab that is very active even at village level in 13 districts of Punjab and has a base in other districts. A large number of youths and women too are part of it now. He is also among leaders who are part of the “think tank” for planning farmers’ protests.

Dr Darshan Pal (70)
Member, Working Group, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC)
President, Krantikari Kisan Union Punjab

Dr Darshan Pal is considered among the important farmer leaders of Punjab, who is quite active in AIKSCC. His outfit is among the 10 most active farm organisations in the state.

A MBBS, MD (Anesthesia), PCMS doctor, he took pre-mature retirement from his Punjab Civil Medical Service (PCMS) job and became an agriculturist as his family owned 15 acres of land. He started participating in farmers’ programmes in 2007 and joined the BKU. In 2016, when Krantikari Kisan Union was formed, he became its member and now during Covid-19 pandemic, he was appointed the president of the union. “I wanted to serve farmers of the state and became a farm activist myself,” he said.

His union is quite active in half a dozen districts of the Malwa region of the state.

Satnam Singh Pannu (65)
Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Committee, Punjab

Formed in year 2000, the oufit that Satnam Singh Pannu heads is now active in 10 districts including four of Majha region, and three each of Doaba and Malwa regions. The organisation has both farmers as well as Khet Mazdoor as its members. Even women and children are participating in its ongoing protests in 10 districts currently. This is considered to be the most aggressive farm organisation of Punjab. Founder member and president of the organisation Satnam Singh Pannu, had launched it in 2000 when the then SAD-BJP government was not lifting paddy from the mandis. It was due to their agitation, that farmers managed to get paddy lifted and got money. Hailing from village Piddi in District Tarn Taran, Pannu is a graduate and is active since his students’ days. Fully devoted to farmers’ and labourers cause, Pannu’s two sons are working on 10 acres land of the family. The organisation is well organised at village, block, district, and state level. The union’s activists now plan to stop trains under ‘Rail Roko’ programme on September 24, a day before Punjab Bandh by 30 organisations of Punjab.

Jagsir Singh (47)
District Committee Member (Bathinda)
BKU, Ugrahan

Jagsir Singh joined the union over a 3 years back, and is considered a highly dedicated member. He has been instrumental in constituting several village-level units of the union, mobilising farmers for protests, and motivating the youth to come forward for the cause of the farming crisis. A farmer himself, Singh owns 9 acres land at village Jhumba, but he had given it on the lease so that he could work full time for farmers’ cause. He owns a grocery shop in his village where he has also made an office to attend the grievances of the farmers.

“I have to move a lot in my district as well as outside the district in connection with protests. I do not mind if my shop is closed for a week or 10 days as the working for farmers is the most important work for me. I am thankful to my family for not stopping me for this work,” he said while speaking from the dharna site in Badal village.

Mahinder Singh (50)
General Secretary, Mansa district
BKU, Dakaunda

Mahinder Singh is a farm activist for the past 23 years. He has 18 cases against him in connection with farmers’ protests like rail rook, jail bharo, because of which he was lodged at nine different jails, including at Delhi.

A matriculate and a farmer himself, he along with his two brothers is doing farming on 21 acres land of the family at his native village Bhiani Bagha in district Mansa. He is at the forefront of every agitation of the farmers.

“My life is for farmers and it does not matter even if I am booked in 100 cases,” he told The Indian Express.

Bhupinder Singh Longowal (35)
State Convener, Youth Wing
Kirti Kisan Union

Active in the union for the past two years, Longowal, a postgraduate in political science, he has been a farm activist since his students’ days and was a member of the Punjab Students’ Union and Nuajwan Bharat Sabha before joining Kirti Kisan Union. Having a debt of Rs 7.50 lakh (family debt), the marginal farmer with 2 acres of land is fully dedicated to the farmers’ cause.

Bhupinder’s education and rapport with the students have been helping Union to form ‘youth units’ of the union at the village level and to mobilise youngsters for the farmers’ cause in various districts of the Malwa.

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