'We feel our land will be taken away by corporates'

Despite challenges, farmers in India encamped at Haryana-New Delhi border determined for rollback of new agricultural laws

'We feel our land will be taken away by corporates'

India - Inside a small tractor-trailer, Major Singh is reading a book. The sexagenarian traveled 350 kilometers (217 miles) from his hometown in Moga district of the northern Indian state of Punjab to the capital for a protest. 

He is one of the thousands of farmers who have gathered at the Singhu border -- between Haryana and New Delhi -- against agricultural "reforms" passed in September, which they believe will hit them hard. 

Despite his old age, and suffering from a heart disease with a stent inside, Major says he made the journey for his future generations, and is determined till the demands are met.

“We will not go back until [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi repeals the laws,” the 64-year-old sporting a long white beard and a turban told Anadolu Agency. “Nothing can break us."

“Not just one, two or three, there are a number of anti-farmer clauses in the new laws," he says. "They want to bring the private sector into agriculture. Every farmer feels our land will be taken away."

Major, who has also been joined by his 10-year-old grandson, says he and his family are sleeping outdoors for many a days.

Tractor-trailers lined up at the site have become living spaces as police barred the farmers from entering New Delhi. They remain encamped as negotiations with the government continue.

The spot is about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the main protest site of Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi.

75-year-old Hamir Singh from the Patiala district of Punjab came along with nine villagers earlier this week.

“I told my wife it's a do or die situation. Either I will come back as a winner or never," he told Anadolu Agency. "She is alone at home as my son is settled in Canada." 

Emotions running high

As he explains the journey and their objectives, a group carrying banners and placards passes through and raises slogans, Modi sarkar Murdabad (Down with the Modi government). 

"This government has betrayed us, the farmers,” Hamir says. “We were not consulted and all this is aimed at helping private businessmen.”

To keep up the momentum, volunteers shout anti-government slogans, while leaders address the crowd in the presence of electronic, print and digital media.

They also help with community kitchens, which have been setup after every 100 meters. When the night sets in, they take blankets and sleep inside or under the trucks.

“There is cold, but we have been given blankets. We'll manage it,” Hamir says. "My sugar levels are high and doctors have advised me to go home. But I will not step back."

Health camps have been set up at the protest site to cater to the needs, especially of the elderly. 

Mahinder Kumar, a protester in his 40s, joined the camp last week. He works at a blood bank in Haryana, and had requested for a leave to be here.

As the government assures that the amendments will not hurt the farmers, he says they cannot go with their word.

“We don’t trust them. All they do is lie. We want nothing less than a roll-back," he says. “Didn’t the government make a promise that we will get money into our accounts? It never happened,” he says referring to Modi's election promises.

In 2014, the then prime ministerial candidate had promised that each Indian would receive 1.5 million Indian rupees (over $20,000) once “black money” is repatriated from abroad. But to no avail.

Missing family

Kumar arrived at the site on Dec. 11, and is already missing his 7-year-old daughter. But is resolute in his mission. 

“I make video calls with her every evening. I tell her it's important to be part of the protest, and will return home once we achieve success,” he says while joining others in unloading a truckload of food supplies arrived from a nearby gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs.

“Even if it takes months or a year, we will stay here only.”

The passion runs deeply among children as well.

 “Modi has to accept our demands. People are dependent on agriculture, why can't the government listen to the farmers?” asks Angad Singh, Major's grandson. "Our family is ready to sacrifice everything to get justice."

Even the spread of coronavirus has not kept them from speaking out.

“I don’t want to sit at home and die because of these new laws," says Dilprit Singh, 46. "I know there is COVID-19, but would love to die for the cause."