On November 26 last year, farmers protesting against the three farm reform laws reached the Capital’s borders with a resolve to leave only after their demands were met. A year later, they are both sad and happy at the possibility of returning home, leaving behind the protest sites with which they have developed a spiritual connect.
On Friday, as the protest completed a year, the Singhu border was once again buzzing with activities and people flocked to the borders to mark the day and celebrate it with the farmers. A designated place was set up with speakers and a projector for evening celebrations, where a video of the protest’s journey was scheduled to be played.
The langars serving jalebis, juices, and pizzas , which had disappeared over the last few months, returned to the site. So did the SUVs with loud music playing on woofers. The Khalsa Aid kiosk, which had also shut down, was seen offering bananas.
There were some langars that were functional even after the crowds had dwindled and the media had stopped visiting. One among them, run by the people from Hoshiyarpur, did not stop “even for an hour”.
Manjinder Singh, 45, who will complete five months here on December 11, had tears in his eyes when he remembered one of the non-stop rainy days in January. “It was biting cold and it was raining for 24 hours. The tarpaulin came down and I stood for hours trying to hold it. We have seen a very tough time but it has borne fruits,” he smiled as he wiped his tears.
Four tents had caught fire on Deepavali, recalled Mr. Manjinder. “We have seen the worst of times but the almighty has given us strength to stay put.”
Recalling the tough days, Trilochan Singh, 55, said that reaching the borders was probably the toughest because they were stopped by barricades, lathis and tear gas shells. “I remember living on tea and biscuits for 48 hours till we finally reached here and managed to cook,” he said.
“ Ghar jaake ek-do mahine dil ni lagna (Will not feel good for a month or two after going home),” said Kamaljeet Singh, 29, from Fatehgarh Sahib. He announced his plan to return home with a disclaimer that it will happen only after they have it in writing that the farm laws have been repealed and all other demands have been met.
For Mr. Kamaljeet, the Singhu border has become a spiritual place, which he would always visit even after the protest ends.
Avtar Singh, who runs the Life Care Foundation Hospital, recalled how he had started giving medicines from a table and has now turned it into a full-fledged hospital with tiled floors, doctors, and a lab handling hundreds of patients every month. “This has been a university for me where I have learnt a lot. I feel proud when I realise that I have been a part of this historic protest. This protest has taught us all that patience and perseverance will make you win,” he said.
The two recognisable heroes of the protest – Nachchatra Singh, 87, and Santok Singh, 72 – who have been a part of the protest since Day 1 reminisced about their journey.
Mr. Nachchatra contracted COVID-19 and was treated at the makeshift hospital at the site for nearly 25 days. He said he didn’t think he would make it but the “almighty had other plans and wanted me to see us winning”.
Mr. Santok, who has become a popular figure as the ‘babaji’ who survived the injuries sustained in a clash with police on November 27 last year, said living through extreme weather was nothing compared to the loss of lives during the protest.
According to Samyukta Kisan Morcha, 732 people lost their lives in the protest.
Randhir Singh, founder of UK-based Midland Langar Seva Society, one of the few langars that functioned throughout the year, said that they have reached out to families of 555 such farmers and helped them with their needs.