New Delhi: The crowd is more than usual but the diverse collage can easily be broken in one heartbeat. It’s the New Year’s eve and people from both urban and rural Punjab and Haryana have decided to summon 2021 with the protesting farmers at Singhu and Tikri borders. “At what point in history have we not resisted? For us, it is important to stand with the dissenter, that is part of the Punjabi DNA,” Harpreet Kaur from Amritsar, tells IANS, negotiating her way through the crowds. Kaur insists that her family no longer owns any land, “But this protest stands for many more things,” she says.
With people across generations, with vehicles full of food, blankets and other items arriving at the borders on the last day of 2020 to show solidarity with the protesters even as the latest round of talks resulted in two demands being met by the central government, the stretch occupied at Singhu seems straight out of a textbook version of a rebellion where classes meet on the same road and are not awkward to look into each other’s eyes.
Besides the usual slogans damning the establishment and caricatures of ministers fluttering with union flags, the speakers on modified tractors blaring peppy Punjabi numbers are getting all the attention from local kids and photographers. Yes, there is the usual caution while talking to mainstream media, but it has not led to any loss in clarity when it comes to what their future strategy will be.
“The acceptance of two demands by the central government does not mean that we would go away unless the three contentious farm laws are withdrawn,” insists Baljinder Singh from Gurdaspur, who has led several people from his region to the site and has been around for more than a month now.
Besides multiple teams of technicians climbing tall poles to set up wi-fi antennas, the last day of the year also witnessed members of ‘Kendri Punjabi Lekhak Sabha’ leading a march to the main stage. Malkit Singh from the sabha stresses, “For Punjabi writers, it has always been paramount to remain connected to the issues being faced by the people. Our writings have always reflected ground realities. The new farm laws and their ramifications on the agriculturists concern us, and it is our duty to lend our support.”
As the shades of dusk fall, and loud music makes way for soothing shabds, lyricist and singer Bir Singh from Amritsar, who has worked with the likes of Kailash Kher and Diljit Dosanj, and has been travelling across the state to raise support against the new laws with his songs and music feels that the participation of artists in any kind of protest is bound to lend more gravity to a cause. “Culture always facilitates an emotional connect.”
The ‘walls’ of ‘Sanjhi Sath’, the debate and library space at the border, where youngsters gather in the evening to listen to elders is alive with paintings and sketches of the protest. “We feel it is important to document this movement. Society and the arts always fuel each other,” says a volunteer.
Adding that the more than moth long sit in has also resulted in a peculiar understanding between people of Punjab and Haryana, Rajdeep Singh, a visual artist from Jalandhar, who has been part of different volunteer teams since the beginning of the protest feels, “Despite sharing borders and constant exchange of people between the two states, both never had a chance to understand each other’s way of life so closely. The cultural ethos may not be very close, but this intimacy during the protest has definitely led to be more open towards each other’s mannerism, language and general outlook.”
It is now late evening, multiple bonfires have been lit. Faces, old and young are sitting around the flame. A group is watching a news report on a ‘masked’ New Year’s party in Goa on a mobile phone.