Our lives have changed: Singhu village on farm laws, uproar
It is a sunny December afternoon and Ramesh Sharma is sitting in a charpoy on the lush green lawn of his house overlooking the wheat fields. The moving speeches delivered by farmer leaders can be heard through megaphones at the nearby Singhu border on the national highway.
“You know, these protesting farmers have made our town famous all over the world. But their protests have also upset our lives, ”he says.
Sharma is a resident of Singhu, the last town before entering Haryana in North Delhi. He also gave the border its name, Singhu Border, which is one of the main sites of farmers’ protests around the capital against the new agricultural laws of the central government.
The town is home to some 250 families. Being close to the industrial areas of Delhi such as Narela and Kundli, a rental economy has developed in the village over the years, but more than half of the families depend on agriculture. They mostly grow rice and wheat, which they sell at the Delhi Mandi government’s Agricultural Products Market Committee (APMC) Mandi in Narela, about five kilometers away. New farm laws and protests have divided residents.
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Ask Sharma, who has a 2 acre farm, what he thinks of the farmers’ demands and after a long pause he says: “Farmers should have the right to sell their produce wherever they want. These new laws, in my opinion, will facilitate that. ”
As we speak, Satish Kumar Sherawat, another farmer, joins. He tells us that he came directly from the site of the border protest, about a kilometer from the village.
“I go there every morning for two hours. Your fears are not unfounded. The companies will first offer a great price for our products, much more than what the government mandis offer. That will make mandis irrelevant and then non-existent. Then the farmers will be at the mercy of big business, ”says Sherawat, who has five acres in the village. “The only solution is for the three agricultural laws to be eliminated.”
So do the people support the protests with supplies? Sherawat responds with a shy smile: “No, they can help us more than we can help them.”
It is the wheat harvest season and almost the entire Singhu people are growing it on hundreds of acres of farmland. On the well-paved roads of the village, which wind through the lush green fields, you see the parali (stubble), stalks of the previous season’s rice ripped from the ground after harvest, thrown over the edge in many places. Many farmers in northern India use stubble burning to quickly prepare the ground for wheat harvest. This increases the already high levels of pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR) and the North Plains of India.
But Sharma is quick to point out: “We don’t burn it, we sell it to dairy farms in Delhi and NCR where it is used as animal fodder.” Then he points to a dense cluster of low-rise houses in the distance. “That is a Haryana village. Unlike them, we have an uninterrupted power supply. ”
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Singhu Village is also home to a closed rice factory, several grain warehouses, and large dairies, run by both villagers and outsiders. With the expansion of families, land tenure in the village has decreased. Many young people from the village have established businesses, others have found work in nearby industrial areas. The village is also home to many retired and serving employees of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC).
DTC employee and resident Narendra Singh had sold his farmland in the village a few years ago. He fiercely opposes the protest by farmers in the vicinity of his village, saying that the three-week protest had changed their lives.
“There were about five gas pumps on the highway near our town; all are closed due to protests. The DTC buses are no longer coming because the narrow main road in the village is clogged by vehicles diverting due to the blockade, ”says Singh. “Sometimes it takes us two hours to cover a distance of one km from the road to home during rush hour. Traffic police have appeared in our town, which is quite a curious sight. ”
Others, like Satish Kumar, say the new laws miss nuance. Kumar has leased 27 acres in the village to farm for Rs 12 lakh a year.
More than the APMC mandis, it is the disappearance of the arhtiyas (commission agents) that worries him most.
“Whenever I need money for agricultural or personal needs, I approach these arhtiyas. They know that I am a farmer and that I will bring my harvest to them, so they quickly grant me a loan. Sometimes I have taken up to Rs 8 lakh from them to pay the rent for the land, ”says Kumar. And how much do you pay as interest? “About 24 percent per year. I know it is high, but the arrangement suits me, since I don’t have much of my own land, it’s not easy to get those loans from the bank, ”he says.
In another part of town where multi-story houses are clustered, a group of old men is busy playing cards. While most support protesting farmers, calling their concerns about the new laws “genuine,” a couple are concerned about how the protests will end.
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“I think both the government and the protesting farmers are not being reasonable. Farmers cannot say “my way or the road”. Most of the union leaders, who have been yelling hoarsely to each other there, don’t seem to have read the laws, ”says Ran Pal Sherawat, who owns 2.5 acres here.
His older brother, Om Prakash Sherawat, gets philosophical as he seeks to describe the impasse. “You must have heard the saying that rulers and children are very difficult to deal with when they become stubborn. Now, we are beginning to worry about how and when these protests will end. Sometimes we fear violence; our relatives keep calling us from all over the country to find out if everything is okay in the village, ”says Om Prakash. “While we are happy that our village is famous now, we do not want it to become the scene of a violent peasant revolution.