Tents, langar, shifts: Behind stir, a well-oiled, disciplined machine

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Written by Raakhi Jagga
| Shambhu (patiala) |

Nov. 22, 2020, 9:36 a.m.


A langar underway in the parking lot of Shambhu station. (Express photo by Gurmeet Singh)

IT IS 4 AM, the air is cool and the city of Shambhu is sleeping soundly. But the moonlit parking lot at the station is packed with activities. The protesting farmers camping there are preparing for a shift change. Soon 29 of them left.

Farmers from 10 unions have been camping in and around this station for more than 50 days. Hazura Singh (57), BKU (Rajewal) bloc president and chief organizer of this morcha, recounts how they first descended on the tracks near the upper deck on October 1.

Protesting the three central agricultural laws, farmers in Punjab blocked the railroads for nearly 21 days. “There was a lot of anger and the crowd grew to over 5,000 during the day here,” Hazura says. It started to drop from October 21, when the state’s 30 farmers’ unions decided to clear the tracks for freight trains. The demonstrators then went to the docks. The freight trains ran for three days before the railroads stopped them on October 24 on the grounds that their staff feared for their safety.

Faced with an unprecedented rail blockade, the state government urged unions to clean up platforms. “On November 5th we moved to the parking lot, now we never enter the platform again, not even to drink water. But the railways always accuse us of obstructing the trains, ”explains Nathu Lal, a former sarpanch in Gharma village.

Inside the dusty train station at the Punjab-Haryana border that once hummed with some 280 freight and passenger trains throughout the day and night, a lone engine passes. A railroad employee, who requested anonymity, said they are busy checking the tracks through the engineering wing. “We have doubled the daily screening time from 2 to 4-5 hours. We have already completed the deep screening of the tracks from Rajpura to Shambhu, ”he said, adding that the Delhi-Ludhiana-Jammu railway line passes through this station.

Outside, over a breakfast of aloo paratha and tea, a farmer asks, “If these engines can run 24 hours a day, why can’t the goods be transported?”

At the position of the Union Ministry of Railways that they will run freight and passenger trains simultaneously, Ranjit Singh, a farmer, said: “Kisan di mooch da sawaal hai (It’s a matter of pride for a farmer). Our leaders have already said that if they were driving freight trains, we would allow passenger trains the next day, if not the same day.

With the mercury soaked, the farmers turned the open-air parking lot into a tent, with plush bedding on the ground dotted with Punjabi newspapers.

A motley group of Punjabi railway and police personnel keep a close watch on them. Two jawans from the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and three from the Government Railway Police (GRP) run the 24 hour station. ASI Jarnail Singh from GRP says, “This dharna has been peaceful from the start , but we must remain vigilant. ” RPF police chief Suresh Kumar agrees: “They did not damage any property at the station.”

Pointing to the police bandobast, a farmer said, “They take our photos at least three times a day, and if a leader comes to talk to us, they tape their speech.”

The cops shrug their shoulders. “It’s protocol, we have to send this information to head office every day.”

At lunchtime, some railroad staff sit down for langar with the 70 or so farmers and children from nearby railroad quarters. Today it’s roasted rumali with soy nuggets and potatoes. Diwali, the children say, saw a large spread with sweets galore.

Gurmail Singh, from Bhunder Kalan village, who has been here for four days, says morchas across the state are being run like a well-oiled machine. “There is a weekly list of farmers as well as the three meals and tea. Today, for example, breakfast came from the village of Hazura Singh.

Surjan Singh from Akri village near Patiala says that this morcha is managed by 10 peasant organizations – BKU (Rajewal), BKU (Sidhupur), BKU (Dakaunda), Krantikari Kisan Union (Punjab), Krantikari Kisan Union (Phool), Rashtriya Kisan Manch, All India Kisan Federation, All India Kisan Sabha, Indian Farmer Association and Jamhoori Kisan Sabha.

Two members from each organization sit on the coordination and organizing committees, which meet every morning and evening.

Morcha farmers must make their presence known morning and evening. Each of the 10 unions sends five farmers each for the night shift, Surjan said.

Breakfast is the leanest time of the day as many farmers return to do daily chores at home. Numbers swell around noon, before dropping to around 46 after dinner at 7 p.m.

The drop in mercury does not bother these farmers. Balwinder Singh, 72, says: “We are used to working in the fields early in the morning, the cold does not scare us.”

As some farmers doze off, the conversation turns to the proposed “ Delhi Chalo ” march on November 26.

“If the talks fail, we will march to Delhi. We have more than 2 lakh tractors, we are going to gherao Delhi from all sides if they don’t let us in, ”bristles old Jagtar Singh, 72, from Alamdi village of Patiala.

The “Dilli sarkar”, he said, should read the story: “We have never hesitated to fight, this is our land… We never demanded these acts, why the Prime Minister imposes them on us he does. “

Ruldu Singh, another elderly farmer, who has been glued to the news on his pocket radio, says the central government must behave like a benevolent big brother: “The Punjab has almost 2 lakh trucks which compensate for the trains. The center must decide if it needs the Punjab… What will they gain after the trains stop? “

It’s a question that resonates at the 25 morcha sites near various train stations across the state.

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