Asked if there is any justification for crowds amidst this virulent second wave, he said, ''It is unfortunate that the government is labeling us as villains while taking no responsibility for our plight. They need to better their earlier proposal, farmers are risking their lives for genuine demands."
Even as fresh convoys of farmers have been making their way towards Delhi from Punjab and Haryana for May 26, which is being observed as a nationwide ‘Resistance Day’ to mark six months of protests at the national capital’s borders, leaders of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) told The Indian Express that they are not aiming at a show of strength but a symbolic protest with Covid protocols in place.
Dr Darshan Pal, member of SKM and president of Krantikari Kisan Union, Punjab, said, “We will protest in villages, cities, and on the Delhi borders. However, it will not be a show of strength, but rnment. We will do it by wearing black turbans, dupattas or clothes…farmers will erect black flags on their rooftops, tractors, and burn effigies of the Modi government in every village and at pakka dharnas in Punjab and at Delhi borders. No doubt some movement of farmers has taken place but our focus is not on numbers. We will observe the protest by maintaining social distance and other Covid norms.”
Asked if there is any justification for crowds amidst this virulent second wave, he said, ”It is unfortunate that the government is labeling us as villains while taking no responsibility for our plight. They need to better their earlier proposal, farmers are risking their lives for genuine demands.”
Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan), the union with the largest following in Punjab, said they had held village-level meetings to decide the future course amidst the second wave, but the villagers were adamant on carrying on with the dharnas, albeit with reduced strength: “The government is wrongly projecting us as the cause of Covid, we are protesting in open spaces on Delhi borders where our strength has reduced substantially. Even on Sunday, we did not send more than 4,000 persons to be part of the May 26 dharna, and that too in buses with 50 per cent seating capacity.” Listing the steps they are taking at the Delhi borders to keep Covid-19 at bay, he said, ”We conduct sanitisation regularly, our farmers do gargles, take steam every day, and isolate anyone who develops even a slight symptom. We also have a team of doctors at every protest site, we are more responsible than the government.”
Echoing the others, Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary of Majha-based Kisan Mazdoor Sangrash Committee, said they have pared down the numbers significantly. ”Earlier we used to move in a convoy of 15,000-20,000 in one go, now we are going in a strength of 4,000-5,000 at one time. Not more than five people from a village go to the border for a fortnight.”
Pandher said he wondered why the government had passed the farm laws in the peak of Covid last year. ”We started our dharna at the Delhi border amid the pandemic, our dharna is going to complete six months, and Covid is still there. What is noteworthy is that the government has made no efforts to defuse the situation. We cannot retreat.”
Veerpal Singh, media coordinator of BKU (Kadian), a member of the SKM, said that farmers are ready to get vaccinated. ”NGOs have distributed 1 lakh masks and 50,000 sanitisers at all the borders. We are ready to get ourselves vaccinated, many have already got the first jab…we have medical facilities wherein 15-20 persons can be given ‘level 2’ treatment at the protest site itself.”
Prem Singh Gehlot, president of the All India Kisan Sabha’s Haryana unit, said farmers are already observing social distance at ”at open spaces in Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur”. ”We will observe black flag day and no one can stop us,” he added.
Ruldu Singh Mansa, president of the Punjab Kisan Union, said crowds at the border will thin down further as they have asked farmers to express their anger by burning effigies of the NDA government at their villages. ”I will wear a black turban on May 26, and not change it till our demands are met.”
‘Ready for talks, but come up with a viable proposal’
The leaders told The Indian Express that they are ready for a resolution through talks but the government must come up with a viable proposal.
Asked whether his union would heed Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder’s plea to not hold a three-day dharna in Patiala from May 27, Kokrikalan said, “No, we will carry on with our plans. Covid has a mortality rate of 5 to 10 per cent, farm laws have a 100 per cent mortality rate.”
Officers in Malwa belt, the epicentre of the farm protests, said they are doing their bit by creating awareness about the coronavirus. Bathinda Depury Commissioner B Srinivasan said, ”As of now we have received no information about the protest plans of farmers, but we are trying to convince them not to gather in large numbers in view of the high death rate in the state and countryside.”
Mansa DC Mohinder Pal said the administration is now focusing on door-to-door survey to identify Covid cases. ”Villagers are coming out in very low numbers as compared to earlier this year due to our awareness drives.”
Sangrur Deputy Commissioner Ramvir said he is focusing on sampling and vaccination. ”Our emphasis is on disease control, our rural door-to-door survey is in full swing now.”
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