At Singhu protest site, cautious optimism among protesters, who want PM’s promise on paper

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Shock and disbelief, joy and tears — farmers at the Singhu border experienced a gamut of emotions as Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the three farm laws will be repealed.

After a year at Delhi’s borders, farmers said they have achieved a “half-victory”, and will continue to camp here. Many said the announcement could be a “ploy” ahead of state polls, and that they would wait for SKM leaders to decide the next course of action.

Around 9.20 am, as a majority of protesters were busy with Gurupurab celebrations, a few farmers received calls from families back in Punjab and Haryana.

“A relative called me at 9.30 am, but I dismissed it as a rumour. When it was confirmed, a feeling of euphoria set in. This is a victory for the rights of farmers, but a half victory. We will not budge till the Parliament moves a motion to repeal laws and a guarantee of
MSP is given in writing,” said Nachatter Singh (86), a farmer from Ludhiana’s Raikot district.

Celebrations began by 10 am, with protesters rushing to nearby shops to purchase speakers, flowers and sweets. At 10.30 am, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) released a statement welcoming the decision, adding that “we will wait for the announcement to take effect through due parliamentary procedures”.

“However, nearly 700 farmers have been martyred… SKM also reminds the Prime Minister that the agitation of farmers is not just for the repeal of the three laws…,” the statement added.

By noon, crowds swelled with many people from Delhi-NCR flocking to the protest site. Tractor trolleys and horses, with youth perched on top dancing to songs by Punjabi singers — Babbu Mann, Ammy Virk, Jazzy B and Ranjit Bawa — traversed through the day near the main stage.

Rashmeet Singh (32), a businessman from Rajouri Garden, drove to Singhu on a scooter. “I come from a family of farmers. I had planned to visit Singhu for Guru Nanak Dev ji’s birthday celebration later in the day. When I heard the news that farm laws will be repealed, I set off,” he said.

Sameer (24), who runs a mobile shop in Kerala, was travelling to Delhi with a friend, but rushed to Singhu when the news broke. “My grandfather was a farmer and
I support the farmers here. When I saw the news update, I took a cab and came here. I will stay here for a few days now.”

Some lamented that this win had come at a heavy cost. Nodeep Kaur, Dalit labour rights activist and member of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan in Sonepat, said, “Farmers’ movement has forced the government to bow down. But this is not a complete victory. More than 700 farmers have been martyred, cases have been slapped against protesting farmers… till a guarantee of MSP is given, compensation is assured to kin of farmers who have died, and all demands are met, the victory will not be complete.”

Gurjeet Gill (43) from Mohali, who quit his job in the IT sector to be here, said, “When the government failed to keep up with demands during Covid, we helped locals and others with oxygen cylinders and medical services for free.” Gill and his friends have been working for the Life Care foundation and are running a “mini hospital” at Singhu.

Fifty-year-old farmer Dayaram from Tarn Taran said he “forgives” the PM but added: “They called us terrorists, jihadi, khalistani. Police barricaded the area and isolated us just before the pandemic. The barbed wires and cemented fixtures show we are not a part of them. Now, you want us to forget everything. I don’t know if I can.”

The protest started on November 26 last year when farmers from Punjab, Haryana, UP and other states gathered at Delhi borders after Delhi Police stopped them from marching to Jantar Mantar to stage a protest. In January this year, farmers took out small marches towards the eastern and western expressways as part of a call to march to Parliament on January 26.

On Republic Day, police had given permission to farmers to march to Delhi, but a few groups broke off and reached ITO and Red Fort. In the ensuing chaos, clashes broke out in many parts of Delhi. Following this, Delhi Police took stringent steps to barricade and seal the borders. Several arrests were made in connection with the violence.

On October 15, the movement saw another flashpoint after a 35-year-old Dalit farmer was lynched at Singhu. Four Nihang Sikhs were arrested for the murder. The SKM had distanced itself from the incident, stating that theirs was a peaceful, democratic movement.

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