Tuesday, July 16, 2024

How Punjab volunteers keep Indian farmers protest alive | India News

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Jartauli, Punjab – Birds fly over lush green fields as an announcement over the loudspeaker of a local Sikh temple, gurdwara, breaks the silence on a misty winter morning.

“Our carts and volunteers are ready to go shortly. People are asked to come and say goodbye to our brave hearts, ”resounds a male voice in Jartauli, an indescribable village 25 km southwest of Ludhiana in the province of Punjab in India.

Without further ado, men, women and children – all visibly excited – flock to the lawns of the gurdwara. They surround seven tractors adorned with colorful flags and attached to carts.

The carts are covered with rugs and rugs and covered with tarps attached to ropes and bamboo sticks. Between the roof and the ground is a bed of logs loaded with bags of wheat flour, rice and pulses, cartons of packed water, bags of disposable plates and cups, and several boxes of medicine.

Each of the 20 or so volunteers is garlanded by the village chief, as the villagers wait to greet them and give them a hug. Some take photos as the volunteers set out on their journey.

Loaded with supplies, the tractor trailer heads for a 325 km (201 mile) journey to Singhu, on the outskirts of India’s capital, New Delhi, where thousands of farmers are protesting against India’s new farm laws. for over two months.

The protesting farmers, mostly from Punjab, are spread out for several kilometers near the Singhu border, blocking important roads leading to the capital with their tractors and tents.

Protests erupted for the first time last year in towns across the state of Punjab [Hashim Maqbool/Al Jazeera]

Farmers fear that three new laws introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in September last year will end a guaranteed price system on their produce and push the country’s vast agricultural sector under the control of private companies.

Farmers are calling for the repeal of laws that the government says will modernize agriculture and make farmers richer.

Several rounds of negotiations between the government and the leaders of the farmers’ unions have failed. Farmers also rejected a government offer to suspend law enforcement for 18 months.

Protests have started in Punjab

Protests erupted for the first time in September in towns across the Punjab. In late November, farmers marched to New Delhi, but were stopped at entry points to the capital, including Singhu, which became the epicenter of the protest movement – one of the largest that India has ever seen. witnessed for decades.

Farmers say they are determined to stay put and claim to be carrying supplies that will last for months. Thousands of men and women are supported by huge community kitchens serving food day and night, and other facilities, including makeshift medical camps.

Behind the continuing protests lies a well-organized network of volunteers from villages in Punjab and neighboring Haryana state, providing the agitators with “whatever is needed.”

The village of Jartauli sent 10 volunteers with two tractors to join the protest in Singhu two months ago. Since then, they continue to send supplies almost every week and a new group of volunteers are replacing the old ones.

Days before the last convoy of tractors was ready to leave Jartauli, which has around 450 households, Narmal Singh, 47, accompanied by a group of volunteers, visited each house to collect financial donations and donations. food.

“With empty barrels in a truck, we drove past houses and people gave everything they could,” said Narmal, who, like most of his village, is also a farmer and owns two acres. (0.81 hectare) of land.

“People donate rice, wheat flour, sugar, pulses, vegetables, blankets, clothes and other things.”

‘With empty barrels in a truck we drove past houses and people gave all they could,’ farmer Narmal Singh said. [Hashim Maqbool/Al Jazeera]

Among the things they collected that day were 1,500 kg of wheat flour, 1,000 kg of khoya (a dairy product), 400 kg of rice, in addition to 80,000 rupees ($ 1,097 ) cash.

Since the protests began, Narmal said residents of his village have given more than 500,000 rupees ($ 6,800) in cash.

Every morning in Jartauli, a volunteer collects milk from each household and supplies the protest sites. Villagers say they have so far provided around 4,000 gallons (15,142 liters) of milk, or an average of 150 liters per day.

“Everything we provide is our home product and we will continue to supply until our demands are not met,” Narmal said.

As the truck drove through the village, with a top-mounted speaker system asking for donations, the barrels filled up. Narmal continued to write down the names of the people who donated for memory.

Supplies were stored in bags and loaded onto carts. Some are kept to make traditional sweet dishes, called peeni in the kitchen of gurdwara, then loaded with the broth.

“We also reach out to our people who are at the event site and ask them for the additional list of things they need. This product comes from the market through donations, ”said Harbans Singh, a 65-year-old farmer who also works as a volunteer.

“Sometimes the traders in the market don’t take money or give huge discounts,” he said.

Behind the well-managed chain of resource pooling lies a decades-old tradition in the villages of the Punjab.

“We haven’t put in place any new structure to support the protests,” Jigrup Singh, 55, told Al Jazeera.

“In the villages, we still have volunteers associated with the gurdwara who continue to pool resources for different religious and social occasions.”

Jigrup says the concept of community cuisine is at the heart of Sikhism.

“In our village, we prepare food in the community gurdwara kitchen once or twice a month or whenever someone dies,” Jigrup said.

In many gurdwaras across India, community kitchens are run on a daily basis.

“In the villages, we still have volunteers associated with the gurdwara who continue to pool resources for different religious and social occasions,” said farmer Jigrup Singh. [Hashim Maqbool/Al Jazeera]

Villagers say they are working for the Delhi border farmers’ protest on the same pattern.

“We collect donations and material supplies just like we do for our festivals,” said Sharanjit, 42. “It’s just that the amount of supplies has increased. We are treating it like a big festival that needs more supplies.

“Feeding people is part of our religion,” he added.

Besides the huge protest in Singhu, smaller protests are also taking place in Punjab. And villages across the state also continue to fuel these protest sites.

As Narmal Singh bids farewell to the group of volunteers – which also includes his 21-year-old son, Prab Singh, and his brother Amreek Singh – a group of villagers surround him. They register their names as volunteers to go with the next batch.

“Everyone wants to go to the protest site,” says Narmal. “But we also need to work in the backend here in the villages and keep the supply chain running.”

Asked how long their protest lasted, he said: “We are ready until 2024” – the year when Prime Minister Modi’s term ends and new elections are scheduled.

The village of Jartauli sent 10 volunteers with two tractors to join the protest in Singhu two months ago. Since then, they continue to send supplies weekly and a new group of volunteers replaces the old one. [Hashim Maqbool/Al Jazeera]


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