Night before leaving, farmers get together one last time at Singhu border

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Thirty-six-year-old Punjab Singh had come to the Singhu border from Haryana in November last year. More than a year later, he stood in front of the main stage watching farmers dance and celebrate the night before their departure from the site. “I will miss my brothers here. We have made some bonds that will be with us for life but most importantly, Modi will miss us,” Punjab said with a smile as he joined the crowd for one last dance.

On November 26 last year, the first batch of farmers had arrived from Punjab and Haryana for a sit-in protest at the border against the three contentious farm laws. With a firm resolve to move back only after the laws are repealed, the farmers began settling in and after Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella organisation of 40 farmer bodies, accepted the draft proposals by the government, it was decided that the farmers will begin marching back to their homes from Saturday.

In many ways, the last night at Singhu Border resembled the initial nights of the protest — people sleeping in the open as the tents have been brought down, tractor trolleys packed with clothes, utensils, bamboo sticks moving in the narrow portions of the road and more open spaces between the rows of tents after some of the structures were completely removed.

Farmers leave for their homes after the year-long farm stir came to an end at the Singhu border in New Delhi. (Express Photo by Gajendra Yadav)

The farmers marked the occasion with festivities. At every 100 metre, a tractor with glowing LED lights and a speaker was visible. In front of the vehicles, groups of people broke into impromptu dances as cheers travelled in a Mexican wave.

Harvinder Singh (42) from Jalandhar watched the celebrations from a distance. Seated on his wheelchair, beaming, he waited for his friend to steer him into the crowd for a closer look.

“We are going with our heads held high. It is a very emotional moment for us. There is joy and celebration but there is also grief in our hearts for the lives lost in the process. Personally, it was not easy for me because living in the protest on a wheelchair has its difficulties. But my brothers were there for me throughout. It’s a memory of a lifetime,” said a teary-eyed Harvinder.

The main stage of the protest where SKM leaders and other speakers addressed the crowd was removed by 10 pm. It was mutually decided by the farmers that the semi-permanent structures made of bamboo and sticks would be the first to be removed followed by those made with steel. The langars said they would be the last to vacate as they want to ensure even the last person gets a meal.

At 10:30 pm, Buta Singh (40), a resident of Patiala, could be seen stirring a boiling pot of dal as a crowd sat down for a final meal. He has fed thousands of people in the last few months and says will not leave till everyone else does.

“Our task is to give food to everyone. We know for a fact that some people will have to stay behind because of the de-construction work. We will feed them till the end. Our demands have been met so all our sewa has been successful. We will come again if we are needed,” said Buta Singh.

Barely 100 metre from the main stage, fireworks went off amid loud cheers from hundreds of farmers. Even close to midnight, the farmers refused to budge and the dancing continued.

Like in an Indian wedding household, while some celebrated, others took the responsibility of getting things packed. Ahead of the mall at the Kundli border, many could be seen folding their yellow plastic sheets that were instrumental in protecting them from the rain and cold. Trolleys were being reattached to tractors and many stood discussing what would be a good time to start the journey back home.

Post-midnight, the langars began serving tea as several farmers slowly began retiring to their tents. For the farmers, there was the thrill of a successful movement, the happiness of going back home and the sadness to leave behind the brotherhood.

As the night progressed, the traffic at Kundli became denser after trolleys started heading home. Inside the trolleys, packed with items, many could be seen sharing blankets and mattresses.

Despite several hours into the night, a constant stream of people kept moving. Earlier, there would be night vigil by a few to ensure no anti-social elements disturb the peace. On the last night, many could not sleep due to the excitement.

“I slept for a few hours and now I am up again. I do not want to miss a single minute of this. What we have is history. In the morning we will all be gone. I will probably go and help the langars because they will be preparing the morning tea for everyone. Words cannot describe what I am feeling,” said Jatinder Singh (32) from Jalandhar.

Amid all the celebrations, around 2am, there was silence at the spot near the border where the barricades and containers were put up by Delhi Police. This is where the farmers were met with tear gas shells and lathi-charged. From a small hut laced with LED lights, a woman stepped out, folded her hands and gazed towards the sky to recite a short prayer. After a while, she opened her eyes and looked at the site of the protest with content and went back inside and turned off the lights.

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