The Sikh community’s support for farmers protests is not because it is a matter of economic rights, but because these laws jeopardise the dignity of living and livelihood of farmers.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, have used religion to gain political mileage, strengthen their grassroots presence as well as their electoral mandate. A mosque was demolished a few decades ago to mobilise Hindu votes in the name of building a temple at the exact spot.
The perpetrators walked away with impunity while the police appeared to look the other way when thousands were killed and left homeless in its aftermath. Under this Hindu nationalist administration, the cow has been accorded political significance and used as an instrument to polarise public opinion. Anybody holding a differing viewpoint was, and continues to be, branded anti-national or a Naxalite.
Using the national interest narrative, the Indian government has been silencing any form of remonstration and dissent. Under the shield of this toxic communal politics, the government so far has got away with a number of unpopular and brazen decisions like making and enabling electoral funding by private corporations opaque and removing any ceiling on donations, demonetisation, implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, repeal of Articles 370 and 35A from Jammu and Kashmir, passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, totally dampening down on labour laws, and diluting the Environment Impact Assessment regime, without any significant challenge except on the CAA/NRC where coronavirus came to the government’s rescue.
This democratic alienation that our government seems to have grown very fond of increases the distance between the people and the decision-makers. The government thought that it could also ram through three laws pertaining to farmers likewise but got a surprise in the form of a rock-solid resistance from Punjab and Haryana farmers.
The Sikh community has been at the forefront of the struggle at all the protest sites surrounding Delhi, whether in Haryana, Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh. Their religious ethos of langar (free meals), sewa (service), charhdi kala (high spirits) and hakk (right/dignity) resonates in every space of the ongoing protest. The farmers and their families have been there for almost two months in the harsh cold but their firm resolve to stand against this government seems to be getting stronger with each passing day.
The Sikh community has ensured that anybody coming to participate in protests does not face any inconvenience of any sort. The trolleys and tractors are parked in a very organised manner on highways, and they ensure that it does not disrupt the movement of the passing vehicles.
The Punjabi youth and women have been playing a key role in keeping the protest organised, such that, even despite the large number of protestors that keep joining every day, it looks like a new village that has sprung up rather than a protest site. Langar thrives on the principles of equality, according dignity to all since it symbolises “sharing” and not charity.
The Sikh community has utilised the positive emotion or energy of their religion to relentlessly support a political cause of farmers’ rights, which is not just a matter of economic rights, but of the dignity of living and livelihood of farmers, and of everyone associated with this sector at the grassroots level. They have the moral strength and the zeal to take on the Indian government, and are determined to get the anti-farmer laws repealed.
The seismic waves of protests have to a large extent also eroded the credibility of the government as it was busy trying to discredit the protest and delegitimise it by calling it “anti-national”. As the government dithers in taking a decision on the farm laws, it is increasingly becoming clear that it is serving the interests of corporates. In spite of the best and concerted efforts of the government in trying to question the motive of protestors, its own intent and vision pertaining to the laws is now considered to be dubious.
The Hindutva brigade, which is quick to ascribe motives to people who oppose its agenda, is at a total loss to even comment on posters like “Non-Resident Indians for Farmers”, “We are not terrorists, but farmers” or the active participation of bodies like Khalsa Aid and British Sikh Council in facilitating the protests or the presence of martial Nihang Sikhs who have taken upon themselves to form the first line of defence at the Singhu border.
Even Muslim farmers from Maler Kotla have set up a langar to offer solidarity. The spirit of service, a unique feature of this protest, has overcome all political propaganda unleashed at the protestors or attempts to divide them by employing various tactics.
The government, whose morality is hollowed out by corruption, the politics of divide and polarisation, will not be able to face the truth that resides in the hearts of committed protestors. None of the tools employed by it to browbeat its dissenters seem to be working this time, as the protestors have successfully countered those wishing to taint the movement with cogent analysis of the consequences of the laws.
Almost two months of the dialogue process has not yielded a result because the ministers engaged on behalf of the government are probably not empowered to take a decision on their own. The PM is unlikely to engage in a direct dialogue. The dialogue process appears doomed. We can only hope that the struggle of these farmers will triumph one day.