‘Won’t Become Shaheen Bagh’: Farmers’ Protest to Go on Amid COVID
Images from protest sites show lack of social distancing and most protesters without a mask.
“The Narendra Modi government is trying to muzzle the farmers’ protest in the name of COVID-19. Our aim is to protect ourselves from the pandemic – and from becoming another Shaheen Bagh.”
Even as the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) announced multiple guidelines and precautions to be undertaken at the protest sites amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, its message was clear – The farmers’ protest is far from over.
On Monday, 19 April, in a press conference, the SKM – the umbrella body of 40 protesting farmers’ union – sent out a “Phir Dilli Chalo” call, urging protesting farmers, and those who had returned to their villages for harvest season, to join back the agitation.
For over five months now, thousands of farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been camping at borders of the national capital – Singhu and Tikri – in protest against the three new farm laws brought in by the Modi government.
With cases soaring above 25,000 almost daily in New Delhi, what is the roadmap ahead for the historic farmers’ protest?
‘Resistance Week’ to Protect Against COVID
In a statement, the SKM said “all protest sites will make strong arrangements to protect from COVID” from 20 April to 26 April, or what they called called as “Resistance Week”.
- Information shared on protective measures against the coronavirus to be adopted in every trolley and tent at the protest sites
- Masks to be made available, followed by an awareness drive to promote their use
- Vaccination camps at all protest sites
- Avoid gatherings and daily meetings
- All medical camps to have increased availability of thermometers, oxymeters, and masks
- Treatments to be initiated immediately if anyone shows symptoms of COVID
In a conversation with The Quint, Yogendra Yadav, who announced the roadmap at the press conference along with several other union leaders, reiterated their resolve to continue the stir against the three laws, and to not bend to government pressure to end the protest due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
“If the Modi government puts pressure on us to end the agitation, it reflects utter hypocrisy. The Prime Minister himself is addressing rallies with lakhs of people. But, that doesn’t mean that we put our people at risk. Hence, it is the responsibility of the leadership to frame guidelines and take precautions. That is the task of any leader of a political movement.”Yogendra Yadav
Earlier, Union Agricultural Minister Narendra Tomar and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar have appealed to the farmers to end the protest and to return to their homes amid the COVID surge.
Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala, in the meantime, wrote to Modi on on 17 April, urging him to resume talks with the protesting farmers and reach an “amicable conclusion”.
‘There’s No Corona, Won’t Wear Masks’
A journalist, who has been covering the farmers’ protest at Singhu border, told The Quint that large groups of people, mostly elderly, gather near the stage everyday for speeches. Images from the protest site show lack of social distancing and most protesters without a mask.
Kamaldeep Singh, 32, who has been protesting at Singhu since November, said, “There have been no cases of COVID-19 at the farmers’ protest. So, most people here believe that COVID is a hoax and are against the concept of wearing a mask.”
When countered with the news reports, expert comments and data from across the country, Kamaldeep said, “Yes, we do see the news reports, but there is no such fear here. There’s no going back. If we go back, we will anyway die due to the new laws disrupting our occupation. But, there are people who are spreading awareness among people to follow the COVID protocols.”
Meanwhile, Kundli SHO Ravi Kumar told The Quint, “We fine about 200 people daily for not wearing masks at the protest. What else can we do? We are trying to create awareness, have set up a vaccination centre too. We take action wherever we see the protocols are being violated.”
“Not wearing a mask is not special to our morcha. Most people in rural India do not believe in masks or the dangers of COVID-19. So, the responsibility is on the leadership to make them aware.”Yogendra Yadav to The Quint
“I don’t understand why there is so much attention being given to the farmers’ protest which is almost a replica of any basti or colony in any city,” Yadav added. “About 4-5 people living in a tent is similar to a family living in a jhuggi in a slum area. If a slum is not being demolished to combat COVID-19, why should a farmers’ protest have to end to control the pandemic?”
Meanwhile, one Dr Biswaroop Roy Choudhury and one Dr Tarun Kothari, who are part of several Telegram groups of ‘conspiracy theorists’ campaigning against vaccines, were recently seen addressing the farmers. Dr Kothari, who wore a sticker reading ‘Corona is a normal flu, not a pandemic’, distributed pamphlets to the farmers and advised them to not take the vaccine.
Dr Roy Choudhury interacted with the farmers on Shaheed Diwas on 23 March from the stage. He said to the crowd, “My team and I have treated thousands of COVID-19 or what I call ‘flu’ patients in the last one year without any deaths. You all have been sitting here for five months without masks or social distancing. Have any of you become a victim of COVID? This is all a big ploy.”
Even a farmer union leader echoes the sentiment.
Bharati Kisan Union (Charuni) president Gurnam Singh Charuni said COVID-19 is “a sinister ploy by the government to end the 150-day-long farmers’ protest.”
“It’s all a lie. If the government is saying 1,000 people have died due to COVID-19 only, why should we believe them? Is there any proof?”Gurnam Singh Charuni
“There have been over 200 farmers who have died due to heart attack, illness due to age and extreme weather conditions, but nobody died of COVID-19,” Charuni said.
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