On 19 November morning, an announcement from the local gurdwara in Kheeva Dialu village in Punjab’s Mansa district broke Hardev Singh. The 35-year-old farmer wept for hours.
The minute-long announcement was about Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s decision to repeal the three farm laws. “If this had happened sooner, my mother would have been alive,” said Hardev.
His mother, Gurmail Kaur, was one of the three women farm protesters at Tikri border who had been mowed down by a truck at Bahadurgarh early 28 October morning.
As per the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), over 675 protesters have died since the anti-farm law agitation began in November 2020.
For families of the victims, the morning of 19 November was a difficult one. While the decision led to a wave of cautious joy at the protest sites, it also reminded the families of victims of the heavy cost they had incurred.
Had Daljit Singh been alive, the PM’s speech on the rollback would have been cause for a major celebration at his home in Uttar Pradesh (UP)’s Nanpara village in Bahraich district. Instead, it was shrouded in grief.
The 35-year-old was one of the four farmers who were killed in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri early October when vehicles in Union Minister Ajay Misra’s convoy ploughed into protesting farmers.
Dissatisfied with the rollback, his wife Paramjit Kaur told The Quint, “When we heard the news, my children and I cried. If the government had done this sooner, my husband would have been here, and we would have been celebrating together like other families.”
The only thing that will bring Paramjit peace is if justice is meted out. “Union Minister Ajay Misra must be sacked, and his son who was in the car must be given the harshest punishment. Farmers who have been protesting in the heat and cold for a year deserve to celebrate but how can I? I want justice," she said.
The family owns only two-acre land, and each year they take 10 acre on lease. Paramjit claimed that 250 quintal paddy is lying in the fields as the farmers are not getting tokens to sell crop at Minimum Support Price (MSP). “I am only being offered Rs 1,200 per quintal, and that’s not enough. It’s so hard to manage everything alone,” she said.
Over 900 km away in Punjab’s Gharinda village in Amritsar district, a similar story played out. “Ek atte ek, gyaaraah honde aa… (one plus one is eleven). Now, I am doing everything alone, sowing wheat alone, taking care of the family alone, managing our debt alone,” said 28-year-old Jagjeet Singh. On 9 December 2020, his younger brother Jugraj died in an accident while on his way back home from Singhu border, where he had been protesting.
Jugraj's mother holds the photo of her 22-year-old son in her lap, and cries. “Our father was mostly sick, which is why we started working in the fields at a young age. He was hard working and young, we wanted to marry him off soon,” said Jagjeet, over the phone.
This year, for the first time, Jagjeet is late in sowing wheat, as he has had to hire help to get the work done. “What do I say about the government’s decision? He would have been alive had they never done this in the first place. Now our dreams are shattered,” he said.
Struggle and Sacrifice
Hours after the PM announced the rollback, the SKM release a statement that the “sacrifice of more than 675 farmers in this movement will not be wasted.”
For Hardeep Singh of UP’s Dibdiba village, it is this thought that brings him a tinge of solace. His 25-year-old grandson Navreet Singh died on the Republic Day when the tractor he was driving in Delhi’s ITO overturned.
“He will never come back. No one can compensate us for the loss of his life but the silver lining is that we have won, and Navreet contributed to do that. Sikh history is full of references of sacrifices made by Sikhs. This was Navreet’s sacrifice for an important cause. That’s how I see it,” said Hardeep. Had it not been for the pandemic-induced restrictions, Navreet would have been in Australia, with his wife.
Hardev shared a similar sentiment about the death of his mother Gurmail three weeks ago near Tikri border. He said, “This announcement made me realise that my mother’s sacrifice didn’t go to waste. At least now, with this repeal, no one will get hurt.”
For Sahil Kajal, a government employee in Haryana’s Karnal, the month of August changed his life. His father, Sushil, a farmer who had been protesting against the three farm laws, died.
The 46-year-old suffered a 'heart attack,' a day after being lathi-charged by Haryana Police. Many protesting farmers were injured after police clashed with them on 28 August. At the time, Karnal SP Ganga Ram Punia, however, had claimed that the death was “not related to the injuries sustained in the clashes.”
After his father’s death, Sahil found himself working in a government office – a part of a deal done between farm unions and the government – where he earns Rs 17,000 a month. “I go to office in the morning, return home, and begin work in the fields. My father used to manage this alone. I am not happy about the speech about repealing these laws because it has come too late. Hundreds of farmers have died in the last one year, so many families have paid a price,” he said.
Grief has quickly paved way for anger for families of the farmers who have died in the last one year. Watching farmers as old as 85-year-old sleeping on the roads in the blistering cold or the cruel heat was anyway tough, and the deaths loom large over the decision to repeal the three farm laws.
Like many other children of farmers who’ve died in the last one year, the pain in the voice of Ranjodh Singh is evident. A resident of Amritsar’s Mode village, he lost his 65-year-old father Balkar Singh on 1 October. “He died in a hospital in Amritsar after he fell sick on his way back from Singhu border where he had been protesting,” said Ranjodh.
“The Modi government should not have put the farmers in so much trouble. This rollback won’t bring back the dead now, will it?” he asked.
(Sandeep Singh is an independent journalist.)