More than 200 days have passed since farmers have been protesting against the three farm laws passed by the central government. While the lockdown and the coronavirus seem hell-bent on suppressing the protests, the protesters show no signs of relenting.
The lockdown poses a great threat to the protest, not just physically but also to the morale of the protesters. They already fear that their lands will be taken or will be left at the mercy of the big corporations. Furthermore, it will indeed be difficult to re-launch such a large-scale protest if it gets postponed.
Farmer leader Baldev Singh Nihalgarh addressed the media at the protest site showing concern about how the implementation of the lockdown would weaken their movement. He further commented that the government should formulate a strong policy because lockdown affects business. Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) has openly stated his belief that the states were trying to stop farmers from reaching the protest sites at Delhi’s borders.
It is not that the leaders do not want their fellow farmers and protestors to be safe. Several leaders of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) in Delhi claim that the government has ignored their requests for setting up vaccine centres at protest sites.
Protests and marches against the lockdown by farmers have been breaking out all over the nation, especially in the regions of Punjab and Haryana. Be it in Barnala, Sangrur, or Patiala, people have protested against the lockdown. However, the appeals to shopkeepers fell on deaf ears as they refused to keep their shops open during the lockdown.
Jang Singh, a farmer leader from Patiala said, “The traders are reluctant to open their shops fearing fines and police cases. We warn the government to stop intimidating shopkeepers."
The districts of Moga, Amritsar, Ajnala, Nabha, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Bathinda saw vigorous protests. Women, men and activists took to the roads with their union flags while urging the shopkeepers and other traders to open their shops.
Captain Amarinder Singh, the CM of Punjab, had to give firm instructions to the police to follow the protocol strictly during the weekend lockdown. He tried to clarify to the farmers that he is in no way against the agitation. However, he maintains that the life of everyone in Punjab remains his top priority.
Moreover, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud will be hearing a plea demanding suspension of the farmers' protests at Delhi borders amid the COVID-19 surge. The plea seeks directions to remove protestors from Delhi and its borders, furthermore to issue guidelines to states/UTs to stop protests till the end of the pandemic.
The farmers counter that the protests started in Haryana in 2020 amidst the lockdown as well. Hence, the imposition of lockdown is nothing new to them.
What remains to be seen is if and how farmers will try to keep this protest relevant. Will they be able to mobilize people without physical gatherings and how? If they do, what will the fate of one of the largest protests in our nation be?
This article has been written by Ruchi Thakur for The Paradigm.
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