Desi 'kaadha' and lemonade have become the most consumed beverages among farmers protesting against the new Central agricultural laws at three Delhi borders for nearly six months now, even as the raging coronavirus pandemic claims hundreds of lives daily and leaves thousands sick. They have also added multi-vitamin and zinc tablets as supplements hoping to improve their immunity against the virus, but are resolved not to yield ground until their demands — a repeal of the three contentious farm laws and a new one guaranteeing MSP on crops — are met. But, they say, they are open to COVID-19 vaccine jabs.
Hundreds of farmers, chiefly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, continue to encamp Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur border points of Delhi despite "a few" of them being removed after testing positive for COVID-19 and some symptomatic protesters undergoing medication. "There are no such cases of coronavirus here at Singhu border. The farmers are taking care of themselves by consuming 'kaadha' (a traditional Indian hot beverage mixed with herbs and spices to boost immunity) and multi-vitamins. The situation at the border area is normal, as it was earlier. There is nothing to worry about," said Sukhwinder Singh, a farmer. Farmer leader Kulwant Singh, who hails from Punjab, said a vaccination centre is being operated at a hospital at the Singhu border. "One of our leaders tested positive for the Covid-19. He has recovered and is now doing well. Those who are showing symptoms are getting tested for the virus. The farmers at the border are taking a healthy diet. The vaccination process is underway at a hospital near the border. I got my first jab in Punjab. To get the next dose, I will go back to the state," Kulwant said.
At Tikri and Ghazipur, the protestors said they have demanded for a vaccination facility but the government has not responded to their appeal yet. They added they are firmly resolved to stay put at Delhi's borders, and are making arrangements to ensure COVID-appropriate behaviour among crowds. "We demanded the authorities to install a vaccination centre at Tikri border so that we could get the vaccine but nothing has happened so far," another farmer leader Buta Singh said, claiming the situation at Tikri "is normal". At Ghazipur on Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, not more than three farmers stay in bigger camps now which used to house many more before the second wave of coronavirus began. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), which is leading the charge there, recently arranged around 500 cots to ensure social distancing among the farmers when they sleep. Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait, who has got the first dose of vaccine, is also on the ground at Ghazipur leading his supporters, with all of them consuming 'kaadha' three to four times a day and lemonade too, BKU media in-charge Dharmendra Malik said. "Thankfully, there has been no COVID positive case here till now. Some people had some health issues and they have got medication. Protestors are drinking 'kaadha' and 'nimbu paani' to improve immunity, several are taking multi-vitamins and zinc pills too," he told PTI.
He said, "If you come to Ghazipur, you will see how amazingly normal the situation here is" despite the situation in Delhi, Ghaziabad and Noida looking so grim because of the deadly second wave. Malik said the BKU is also helping the oxygen langars, which provide oxygen cylinders to needy COVID patients, with whatever support the farmers union can extend. "We are dealing with the situation and hoping the government would soon make some arrangement to get all farmers vaccinated," he said, but added, "that does not mean we are going away without the Centre accepting our demands." Hundreds of farmers have been camping at Delhi's borders since November 2020 with their demands that the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 be rolled back and a new law made to guarantee minimum support price for crops.
However, the government, which has held multiple rounds of formal dialogue with the protestors, has maintained that the laws are pro-farmer.