Society

This woman spent a night at the farmers’ protest – here’s what she learnt

The library at the Ghazipur border   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

This is a village, it hits me, as I walk the kilometre and half of the flyover that farmers from Uttar Pradesh have occupied, at the Ghazipur border. There is a sense of community, as people wash clothes or cook together. There are no boundary walls that separate, and the doors — here, the tent flaps — open out into the street.

When my cousin Dharmender Rathi, from Nirgajni in west UP’s Muzaffarnagar said he would be joining the protest, I decided to spend a night there, in solidarity. My friend Kiranjeet Chaturvedi joined me, as we talked to farmers, figured out sleeping arrangements, and set up a library with a few Hindi books.

Dharmender bhaiyya had arranged a tarpaulin covered trolley parked under the flyover as our night shelter, right next to hundreds of others. We reached in the afternoon and after walking around a bit, were directed to the Mahila (women’s) block accommodation, a series of tents where the 40-50 women at the site could rest. This was a happy surprise. We had our own changing room, a langar, and washrooms right across from here, with a ‘she store’ that had safety pins, sanitary napkins, even underwear. As the women plied us with warm socks and shoes — all donations — we felt safe and cared for.

We decided to spend the night with the women — there were about eight in the tent, their ages ranging from the 20s to the 70s. We chatted into the night, as Delhi’s January cold descended. Some were to go to a wedding the next day, and were waiting for news of a bus departing. When they heard that it wasn’t going to, their only reaction was to say that perhaps they were meant to carry on with the sewa (service) — getting up early in the morning, making tea, preparing for the day’s meals by kneading the atta, making rotis. The men would start off the dal at 6 am in large wood-fired cauldrons, for lunch at 1 pm. It’s the best, smokiest dal to savour, and everyone is fed, from volunteers to rag pickers.

The writer (third from left) with her cousins and companion Kiranjeet Chaturvedi

The writer (third from left) with her cousins and companion Kiranjeet Chaturvedi   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Farmers rarely venture out of their villages, so it is not easy for them to be so far away from home for so long. The thought of them living like refugees had filled me with angst, as I sat in my warm home with all its city luxuries. But here I was in the middle of a bustling village on the highway, being treated like a guest at a wedding, despite the incessant rain. I was amazed at the calm and bonhomie. We had shown up to offer support; instead, they filled us with hope.

One of the farmers had talked to us about the lockdown and how people had fled cities. No one fled the village, he said.

On the way back, I wondered where the patience had come from. Farmers are used to changing winds, falling and rising temperatures, and waters flooding their fields. Undeterred they wait patiently, to reap the harvest. As young boys fashioned mud bunds around trolleys, to prevent water gathering under, I realised the fight here is not only against the farm laws, but also for a culture where hard work, resourcefulness, and community are recognised.

The writer has a farm in Sambhalhera, Muzaffarnagar, UP, and lives between there and Delhi .

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 11:30:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/one-night-at-the-farmers-protest/article33602911.ece

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