Over 5000 Farmers organised by the BKU Ekta(Ugrahan) relented to return to homes for Diwali and instead celebrated Diwali together at the protest site near the local residence of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. Farmers had been sitting here on an indefinite protest since October 9. The protest organised by BKU Ugrahan, the largest farmers’ union in Punjab has been going on outside the colony since October 9, blocking both sides of the Sangrur-Patiala road.
To highlight farmers’ problems, special programmes were organised on Diwali. The protest testified the mental resilience of the Punjab farming community, to achieve their objectives, withstanding all obstacles. Demands were raised for scrapping of debts, compensations to all families with suicide victims, remunerative prices, implementation of urban land celings act, scrapping of electricity metes, punishment to culprits involved in rape cases etc. Admirable that the farmers did not take Diwali festival lying down, but utilised the occasion to project the nefarious policies of the rulers, this is a lesson to all the oppressed masses of India. A virtual festival of the masses was celebrated, rather than succumbing to lure of Diwali.
“Farmers celebrated Diwali at the protest site by exposing the failures of the Punjab and Central Governments, which have failed to take required steps for the welfare of farmers. In routine days, our protest ends at 3 pm, but on Diwali, we will sit on dharna till late evening. We also staged special programmes to highlight the problems faced by farmers,” said Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, general secretary, BKU Ugrahan.
Sangtar Singh, a farmer, said they had celebrated Diwali at the New Delhi border last year when they were fighting against the farm laws, adding that similar arrangements had been made for this Diwali.
“We will announce our next plan on October 29,” said Amrik Singh, district president, BKU Ugrahan.
“The Punjab Government is not taking our protest seriously and has failed to fulfil our accepted demands. We have also sent reminders to it, but no action has been taken to date,” said Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of the union.
Farmers alleged that inspite of their repeated reminders for meetings they had failed to garner any response from the government. “We also wanted to go to our homes for Diwali, but the government has compelled us to sit here to protest as they have refused to fulfil our long-pending demands,” said Hari Singh, a protesting farmer.
The farmer leaders on protest celebrated Diwali by singing songs of revolution, staging plays, besides raising slogans against the state government.
While Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is in the process of projecting farm reforms in Himachal Pradesh as part of its electioneering in the hill state which is going to polls on November 12, the strike by farmers outside Dreamland Housing Colony in Punjab’s Sangrur had entered 18th day on Wednesday, receiving no response from the state government so far on fulfilling their demands.
While contributory pension fund employees’ union is all set for a rally in Shimla on October 29, BKU Ugrahan president Joginder Singh Ugrahan has appealed to farmers and people from all walks of lives in Punjab to assemble in large numbers on Saturday outside Dreamland colony where Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has a rented accommodation.
Gurmail Kaur, 52, of Ameer Nagar village in Malerkotla, said, “I had gone to a protest for first time in 1997 seeking justice for a student of 12th class, who was kidnapped, gangraped and murdered in Mehalkalan. Since then, I have been regularly participating in every protest staged by BKU- Ugrahan. We are fully dependent on farming and protests are the only option to raise our voice.”
Sukhdev Kaur, 55, resident of Thuliwal village, said, “We are small farmers. My sons could not get educated due to poverty and now we are struggling to survive due to crop damage. Therefore, we are fighting for survival and for the sake of our children’s future.”
“Two farmers have died at the protest site till date, one Gurcharan Singh (65) who died of snake-bite on October 13, while Karnail Singh Akai (75) of Akai village in Sangrur died of heart attack on October 21. The bodies of both farmers have been kept in the mortuary of Rajindra Medical College, Patiala, and will not be cremated till the government announces Rs 10 lakh compensation, a government job and waiver of loan for the farmers’ families. But, surprisingly, no reaction has come from the Punjab government so far,” said BKU Ugrahan state general secretary Shingara Singh Mann.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has covered mass movements around India and frequently visited Punjab