Indian Army veterans camping at the Singhu border, which continues to be at the heart of the ongoing farmers’ agitation have, since November 26, collected 5,000 gallantry medals that they seek to return “in lieu” of the Centre’s decision to repeal the three farm laws.
Predominantly hailing from Punjab and Haryana, and left with farming as their sole source of sustenance now, the veterans said they plan to collect 25,000 medals over the next two days and “lakhs” more were on their way to the agitation.
“I come from a family of both jawans (solders) and kisan s (farmers) from which eight men have been martyred either in war or at the border. I was proud of that fact but because of what the government is doing to us now, it has begun feeling like this country is no longer worth living in, leave alone to die for,” said 80-year-old retired Havaldar Balwant Singh from Jhajjar in Haryana.
“We have been here since the 26th [of November] and the same government, instead of listening to us cry, is busy finding ways to force these black laws created by people in air-conditioned rooms,” he complained.
About half a dozen farmers, retired Subedar S.P. Singh from Gurdasapur said, who had attempted to meet President Ram Nath Kovind to return a small batch of medals last week, were not only unsuccessful but placed under detention. Retired Havaldar Bartar Singh from Patiala alleged that the group of veterans was detained for two whole days and their phones and belongings confiscated.
“I was a fauji (serviceman) earlier but even before that, I was a labourer and a farmer. We are willing to sacrifice these medals in return for a repeal of the black laws. It was in that spirit that we went to Rashtrapati Bhavan day before yesterday but were detained,” he alleged.
“They kept us in detention for two whole days thinking we will go back home but the first thing we did after being released this morning was to come back here to join the protest,” he also said.
Kapil Dev from Haryana, who retired with the rank of Naik, said the extent to which farmers as well ex-servicemen and the families of serving jawans had been “hurt” by the treatment being meted out to those participating in the protests by the government was unfolding in more ways than one.
On the one hand, veterans had decided to forfeit medals symbolising the glory they had earned over decades, and on the other, fathers were participating in protests guided by a call of duty as their sons, as soldiers, guarded the nation in line with their own.
“These medals were given not for entertainment but for valour, for coming face to face with death, through sweat and blood and tears, but the jawan is ready to let them go for a better future for the farmer,” he said.
“There are fathers here who have chosen to sit in solidarity with other farmers even as their sons are martyred at the border. And the government is alleging that such people have ulterior motives?” he asked.
Retired Havaldar Suresh Kumar Dahiya from Jhajjar alleged that the Central government had consistently, and was continuing to, let both farmers and soldiers down.
“Only two things take a country forward — the farmer and the soldier. I and many others like me here are both, and the government has let all of us down,” he complained.
“Farmers are being forced to accept laws which will lead to their destruction and, on the other hand, the condition of war widows, despite announcements and packages which are used for politics, are deplorable,” he alleged.