Fathers face sons at the barricades

Many of the Delhi Police personnel deployed at the city borders where farmers are protesting the new agricultural laws are part-time farmers themselves or have fathers who work the fields

A t the Singhu border protest site, a head constable looks over rows of steel barricades and barriers to lock eyes with his father on the other side. Both stand their ground.

The duo may be on opposite sides of the farm laws issue but once they return home at the end of the day, they coexist amicably, though lively debates do break out once in a while.

“My father is on the other side of the barricades. He comes for the protest sometimes. They are fighting for what they believe in and we are committed to our duty,” he said, adding that there are discussions at his house about the protest and he shares his viewpoint that the January 26 incident shouldn’t have happened.

Thousands of Delhi police personnel like the Head Constable are deployed at the three borders where farmers are protesting against three controversial agricultural laws, many of them are part-time farmers themselves or have fathers who work the fields.

Before the Red Fort violence, he said, officers were empathetic towards the farmers and also understood their problem, however, feelings changed after the Republic Day incident.

A 51-year-old assistant sub-inspector posted at the border said that back in his village, his family asks him: “Why are you even on duty? You got beaten up”.

He was visibly angry at the protesting farmers even after living with a farmer-father himself.

“We are in uniform right now, so we can’t say anything, but after duty, we are free”.

Another head constable said that he understands the government’s point of view, however, if he says something to his fellow villagers, they criticise him. “They’ll say that you are paid by the government so you will obviously side with them,” he said.

Constable Prabhat said he comes from a rural background and his father is a farmer.

“We have one acre of land in Shamli, Uttar Pradesh, which was not sufficient for a family of 10. Farming is never a profitable business. In order to give my family a better life, I prepared for police recruitment and got selected in the Delhi Police force in 2010. I don’t know who is right or wrong but the protesters should understand that police personnel come from the same village as protesters,” he said.

‘Just doing our job’

Another constable, on condition of anonymity, said that after around two months of duty at the Singhu border, he returned to his home district and is now happy. “We were performing 12-hour shifts there [Singhu border] for over two months during extreme weather conditions. I can understand the pain of both sides. However, we are doing our job. Protests, violence in Delhi have become a regular affair for the past two years and every time, the city police bear the wrath of protesters,” said the policeman.

He added that farmers can’t afford to protest for three months as they have to plan for the next crop and take care of their farms. “I hail from Haryana where farming is an occupation but one can’t leave their farms for three months. I pray the issue is resolved at the earliest and the highways can open for normal traffic,” said the policeman.

A head constable deployed at the Ghazipur border said that he has worked in his father’s farms in western U.P. and he knows the pain of farmers. The people who attacked policemen on Republic Day can’t be farmers, he said.

Duty versus sentiments

“Most of the lower-rank policemen come from rural background and understand the sufferings of farmers. For the past two years, policemen have been attacked in every protest. It is tough to be a policeman. In past two months I have hardly spent time with my family. On Republic Day, we were on duty since 2 a.m. and it continued till 11 p.m. due to the violence. I don’t know what exactly the farmers want and what the Centre is offering them, but I request the protesters to not attack the policemen,” said the head constable.

Condition won’t change

Condition of farmers will never change irrespective of the laws, said another constable.

“We are into agriculture for the past four generations and have always lived on the edge of financial trouble. I am the first one in my entire family who managed to get a sarkari naukri [government job] and shifted to Delhi from Haryana with my family. I always tell my children to study hard. If required, I will sell off the farm land for their education but never go back to the village,” he said.

Lower-rank officers on duty face tough working conditions too. A head constable posted at the Singhu border shared that his duty stretches up to 18 hours.

A head constable, a resident of Sonipat, deployed at Old Police Lines in Kashmere Gate has to go all the way to OPL first and then come back to Singhu border, close home. “Because of traffic diversion, it takes me about two hours to reach OPL and then one hour to reach the protest site. I finish my 12-hour duty which sometimes even extends to 14 hours, then go back to OPL and then go home to Sonipat,” he said.

Extended duty hours is a problem most officers shared. All they have to do during most of the shift is stand around.

Policemen on duty also said that only inspector-rank officers and above are allowed to bring their private vehicles inside the barricaded area.

“I live very close to the Singhu border but my son cannot come here to give me lunch. I have to go till the barricades to take it. We are also not allowed to bring our cars here. We come here in police-assigned buses,” he said.

Talking about arrangements, while officers were satisfied with food and water, they said that toilets was a huge problem.

“Most mobile toilets are out of water and dirty. We go to the bushes to relieve ourselves,” said a constable. Women officers, however, said that they used the washrooms at a nearby petrol pump and a temple which were “fairly clean” and also had access to toilets in the two resorts close to the border.

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