Chandigarh: As thousands of farmers have descended on the national capital to protest against the farm laws for past 11 days, a prominent farmer union, a faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) that owns its mass base in Punjab’s Malwa region which has seen the highest rates of farmer suicides, is the driving force behind the agitation.
This is the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) led by ex-serviceman Joginder Singh Ugrahan, 75, with its base in the Malwa region comprising Bathinda, Sangrur, Mansa, Barnala, Faridkot, Ferozepur, Ludhiana, Moga, Muktsar and Patiala.
A study on farm suicides in Punjab between 2000 and 2013 by the Punjabi University says 97 per cent suicides were in Malwa. The reason is largely debt.
The BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), one of the most aggressive farmer unions in the state, has the largest membership base among the 31 farm organisations in Punjab, largely comprising small and marginal farmers. Their protests are largely peaceful.
Packed in hundreds of tractor-trailers, buses, cars and motorcycles loaded with eatables, the farmers belonging to the union reached the national capital’s borders on November 28.
Bracing tear gas and water cannons, they had started their journey after breaching the massive blockades comprising huge boulders, barbed fences and mounds of earth on the Bathinda-Dabwali road to enter Haryana.
As per police estimates, the number of protesters belonging to the Left-leaning union could be over 1 lakh with sizeable number of youngsters and women.
Ruldu Singh, a leader of the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), said they have hundreds of volunteers who have been pursuing the ideology of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.
“The young ones had been assigned duties to regulate traffic peacefully while the convoy was on its way from the Khanauri border (in Sangrur district) to Delhi. Without violence, they breached the massive blockades comprising huge boulders, barbed fence and mounds of earth on the Bathinda-Dabwali road to enter Haryana,” he said.
“Their duty was to ensure safety of tractor-trailers loaded with people, ration, eatables, medicines, bedding and water,” he said
Also in the protests, both pre- and post-‘Delhi Chalo’ call, the women of this union, donning yellow ‘dupattas’ that represent the colour of martyrs, are taking part equally — a true case of woman empowerment.
Weeks ahead of starting their ‘Delhi Chalo’ journey, every day tens of thousands of volunteers of the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), largely womenfolk and children, were collecting essentials, largely woollens, as well as wheat flour, rice, lentils and other beans, from village to village in the state.
Now, a batch of women volunteers, a majority of them donning yellow ‘dupattas’, have been assigned duties to run ‘langars’ or community kitchens at the camping sites on the Delhi borders.
They are also daily collecting the necessary foodstuffs and essential items from the villages for the protesting farmers stationed on borders.
“This is not first-of-its-kind protest of our solidarity. We have a long history to run the agitations that lasts for months. We have more aggressive ways to lodge our protest in the form of the rail roko agitations,” union leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan said.
Impressed by the grit and determination of the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) activists, popular singer Harbhajan Mann tweeted: “I have never witnessed collective determination, unity and peaceful spirit like this in my lifetime.”
“I urge all of India and the entire world community to continue spreading the word of the peaceful farmers’ protest,” he added.
To dispel rumours, the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) has its ‘task force’ to use social media tools to counter the propaganda against its leaders.
“Our team is on the job 24X7 to dispel the rumours and misinformation on social media accounts of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp groups,” said Rahul Singh, a postgraduate volunteer.
He said social media teams have been deployed with laptops and smart phones.
Also, they are regularly updating speeches of their leaders and news clippings and stories running on news channels.
Even many of the activists of the union have been carrying a photo of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
The farmers are protesting against the farm laws as they feel that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporate entities.
BY VISHAL GULATI