Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly there was this news of Farmers coming together in the month of November to protest against the Indian government's proposed farm bill. Ironically there is no news till now on the outbreak of the COVID virus due to large gatherings at these protest sites. Farmers were primarily from Punjab state and somewhat from Haryana state in the early part of the agitation. They were not allowed to enter Delhi. So they decided to protest on the Singhu Border, which in the coming months would become a hotbed of Farmers protest site. The Peaceful protest went on for about two months till the farmers tractor march on 26th January.
I went to cover the tractor protest on 26 January with pain in my left ankle due to a street dog bite a few days back. But this pain was nothing when compared to the pain farmers were going through. Sitting in the makeshift tents during peak North Indian winters and facing harsh weather is no joke. I have spent few years in Punjab growing up, so the state is always close to my heart.
I visited once before on 13 January to celebrate the Lohri festival with the farmers. Lohri festival is a popular winter folk festival. Celebrated with much fervor in North India especially in the state of Punjab.
The whole atmosphere at the tractor march was filled with positive energy. What I saw during the tractor march brought me to tears. Witnessing such a protest was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. Local came out to support the farmers, some were folding hands welcoming them and some were using handmade signs. Women from Punjab state also participated in the protest. It was a heartening sight for me. I forgot my not so significant pain for the next few hours. Farmers are the food growers of the country; their main job is to work in the fields. They have left everything and protesting against the proposed farm bill. It clearly shows we as a society have failed somewhere. Indian economy is very different from the western economic system, agriculture here forms the backbone of our economy. 2008 economic crisis, India could avoid only because of strong agriculture growth and strong farm economy. The media hardly showed good humane pictures from the protest on 26 January. All-day the visuals were shown of the seemingly dubious violence at the Red Fort. Now the jury is still out whether violence at the red fort was part of a larger conspiracy to hijack the farmers movement, as is being said by the leaders of the farmers movement.
I felt it is imperative to showcase the human aspect of these protests. The tractor march also gave me an opportunity to hold my camera for a good amount of time after a break of more than 9 months, thanks to COVID-19.
Why Farmers are protesting?
This is a topic that demands detailed introspection but let me present it in nutshell.
The government claims that the bills will ensure a higher profit for the farmers as they would be able to sell their produce to whomever and wherever they want.
“They have the power to sell their fruits or vegetables to anyone, and anywhere. It is this power which is the foundation of their growth, now the same power has been given to farmers across the country. They have got the freedom to sell not only fruits and vegetables but grains, sugarcane, mustard and anything that they grow, they can now sell to anyone and anywhere they like,” PM Modi said while addressing the 69th edition of his monthly ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio program.
But the farmers fear that the bills would render the current Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement system ineffective, leaving them at the mercy of “big farmers” and they would be forced to make distress sales to private companies.
There is ample literature available on the proposed farm bills and farmers protest. As a photographer, my purpose is to showcase the humane side of the protest.
Kindly go through these visuals and let me know how you feel about them.
Women Participating in the protest
Leaving their house in the villages of Punjab they provided solidarity to the movement. The enthusiasm of women and young girls participating in the farmers' protest was worth appreciating. Notice the photograph where the elderly woman is showcasing her participation with high octane energy. It is not easy to ride tractors. They are not meant for comfortable rides like those from cars. But this could not deter them from showing their support to the farmers' movement. I have always maintained that women are the thread bearer of human society.
Locals welcoming the farmers at the Tractor March
It was heartening to see local residents coming out in full support of the tractor march. Some were seen distributing water bottles, bananas. It was a joyful occasion filled with positive energy. Women of all ages along young children stood on the roadsides to welcome the farmers.