Raising slogans, singing songs and carrying flags in reds, greens and blues, around 400 farmers with affiliation to different outfits from a number of states on Saturday gathered at north Delhi's Burari ground where they have been permitted to hold a peaceful protest against the new farm reform laws. While thousands of farmers stayed put at the Singhu and Tikri borders of Delhi for the third consecutive day amid heavy police presence, many made their way into the national capital and gathered at the Nirankari ground, one of the largest in the city.
The farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana and also from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, arrived in trucks and tractors. Bhuvan Singh Yadav had started his journey from Gwalior on November 24 and reached Delhi via Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh along with several other members of the All India Krishak Khet Majdoor Sangathan (AIKKMS).
"We were stopped by the Uttar Pradesh police at the Rajasthan-UP border on a bridge, but we did not go back. We continued to protest on the bridge even when it rained. Eventually police had to give in," he said. "We came here with our questions and will return with the answers," Yadav said.
The farmers have been protesting the Centre's three farm laws -- The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation), The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance, and Farm Services and The Essential Commodities (Amendment). They are apprehensive that the laws would pave the way for dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporates.
Yadav, who owns 50 acres of land in Madhya Pradesh's Ashoknagar village, said while the laws specifically do not mention doing away with MSP, that is inevitable. "What the government is saying about not doing away with the minimum support price (MSP) is misleading," Yadav alleged, adding the laws will lead to abolition of the 'mandis', where farmers' produce is auctioned at reasonable prices.
"These corporates will then buy the grains at whatever prices they deem fit. If big farmers like me are worried, what will happen to the small ones?" he posed. Those from Haryana are worried that the legislations will worsen the already "critical" situation the farmers are in.
"In the last six years, only five per cent of buyers have been purchasing grains at MSP... with the laws passed, even that will not happen," claimed Kishan Kumar, who owns 3.5 acres of land in a village in Haryana's Hisar district. He said good quality paddy that should ideally be selling for Rs 4,400 per quintal was being sold for Rs 2,200-2,600 per quintal.
"(Narendra) Modiji talks about 'mann ki baat'. This is our 'mann ki baat', added Shamsher Singh, another farmer from Hisar. Both Singh and Kumar along with several other farmer members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, reached the Nirankari ground on Saturday at 1 am. They said they have come prepared for a long fight.
Amid the cacophony from farmers who said they were determined to make their point, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti struck up a chorus 'Chahe Kuch Bhi Karlo Hum Badhte Jaenge' (Do whatever you want, we will progress). For Simranjeet Kulrian, a farmer from Punjab's Mansa, the laws are simply misplaced. "The government keeps saying that the laws are for our benefit and our rights, but we never asked for these rights. We wanted them to waive farmer loans, but they have done nothing about that," he said.
Kulrian, who owns 26 acres of land, arrived at the protest ground on Saturday. Hanuman Singh, a small farmer with barely two acres of land in Rajasthan's Kotputli, said although the state government has shown support to the farmer community, he has come all the way to Delhi in solidarity with his fellow farmers from the rest of the country.
"Without farmers our country is doomed. The farmers are the country's true voice," he said, adding the central laws will only increase the economic gap The industrialists will keep getting richer while the farmers will continue to suffer, Hanuman Singh alleged. Lokesh Bhati from UP's Gautambuddha Nagar, who arrived at the protest venue on Saturday morning, agreed. The Kisan Ekta Sangh member said the laws will allow the industrialists to exploit the farmers.
"During the lockdown, it was the farmers who continued to supply food to the rest of the country. To prevent them from being exploited, MSP is very essential. But, these laws will let the industrialists have a free run when it comes to crop prices," Bhati, who owns nearly 60 acres of land, said. The Bangla Sahib gurdwara set up a community kitchen to feed the protesters.
The Aam Aadmi Party government has also made provisions for food. A couple of e-rickshaws moved around in the ground spreading awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of wearing masks. Addressing a group of farmers, social activist Medha Patkar said, "The country is currently being run by Modi ji and Ambani and Adani. But, we can't let them enter the agriculture sector... that should be our resolution." The protest also saw attendance by Congress leader Alka Lamba and AAP MLA Raghav Chaddha among others.