“I had to reach Singhu because if the farm legislations are not repealed, I will lose my livelihood," claimed Sukhpal Bajwa, a farm labourer from Punjab who cycled 370 kms for two days to reach Delhi to support the farmers’ agitation against the Centre’s new agri laws. Standing by his cycle, the 36-year-old from Punjab Moga’s district said he could have taken a bus or a train to Delhi, but that could mean his family would have to go hungry.
“What can I do when I don’t own a vehicle. I am a daily-wager and can barely make ends meet by working in a farm. Bus or train would have been expensive, I thought it is better if my family spends that money on their food," said Bajwa.
The journey was tough and “this was also the first time that I travelled this far all alone, completing over 370 kms from my village in Moga", he said, adding that it took him two days, with a few breaks, to reach the Delhi (Singhu) border, whereas in a motor vehicle, the same distance would have taken around six hours. Bajwa said on the way, one of his cycle’s tyres got punctured late in the night on December 18 and it delayed his travel. “I set out on December 17 with bedding and essentials, and finally reached here on December 19. These laws will kill my only job and I am the sole earner in my family of four. I won’t leave till they (the government) repeal the laws," he said.
In contrast to Bajwa’s rickety cycle, at another corner of the Singhu protest site on the Delhi-Haryana border are 10 swanky and expensive looking bicycles. These belong to 67-year-old retired chief engineer Ranjit Singh and his group of nine, most of them above 50 years of age, for whom it was an out-and-out choice to cycle to Singhu to support the thousands of farmers who are protesting for nearly a month against the farm laws. Singh and his group had set out on their journey of 265 km on December 20 from Patiala in Punjab.
It took them 26 hours, which included a halt at Karnal in Haryana of three hours, to finally reach their destination. Their purpose to choose bicycles as mode of transport was “motivating the youth and those farmers who are sitting in the comfort of their homes to come and join the protests". The group, in which barring two all are above 50 years of age, include two retired chief engineers, advocates, a serving army officer, a former army officer, a doctor and businessmen.
“I wanted to come on December 16, but because of some family issue had to delay the plan. We left Patiala at 9 in the morning and reached Singhu at 11 next morning, said Singh. “We want to encourage more and more people to join the protest. If we oldies can do this, why can’t others? We will go to the Tikri border and other protest places as well before leaving for our respective homes," said the 67-year-old, who is currently into farming in his village at Fatehabad, Haryana.
Farmers are protesting the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020. Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.