Meals for cops and free period pads: India’s farmers join a new era of inventive, inclusive protest

Fighting for their rights.
Fighting for their rights.
Image: REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
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Now in its 16th day, thousands of Indian farmers are holding their ground at massive protests in Delhi.

The farmers say these new laws, which the government thinks would revolutionise the farm sector, are unfairly going to benefit large corporations. Talks between the farmers and the government have failed, and the farmers continue to sit in protest along Delhi’s borders.

The protests have grabbed headlines globally for their scale, but also for their inventiveness.

The innovations in the farmers’ protest

Farmers have come prepared to camp out at the protesting site near Delhi for several months. Many of them, who are as old as 70, have arrived in tractor trolleys that can double up as night shelters. Hundreds of such trolleys that have been parked along the highways are also being used to carry ration and even fuel for cooking and bikes.

Farmers sleeping in their modified tractor trolleys.
Farmers sleeping in their modified tractor trolleys.
Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Some of the farmers are currently battling Delhi’s harsh winter nights, but have made arrangements in these trolleys for the summer season as well. They want the government to know they are here for the long-haul.

At the protesting site, the tractors are also doubling up as screens for movie viewing.

The arrangements at the Delhi border, the location of these protests, aren’t for the protestors alone. The farmers have also made massive makeshift kitchens to feed whoever is visiting these sites, including the police force.

Feeding the hungry.
Feeding the hungry.
Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The sensitivity and inclusivity with which the protests are being carried are also winning hearts.

Apart from these compelling ways to keep up the momentum, the farmers have some ground rules that maintain unity.  For instance, like protests elsewhere that adopted a leaderless style to make it harder for authorities to know whom to go after, the leaders of the 31 protesting unions have avoided the formation of a single power centre by taking turns to participate in any talks with the government.

“The pradhan (head) of the day chairs the meeting and later addresses the press about the decisions. No union leader should feel that because he is heading a smaller union he does not have the same say as the head of a larger union,” Gurmeet Singh, vice-president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), told The Print on Dec. 8. “This also makes it difficult for anyone to break the unity because in this kind of leadership everybody matters.”

Yesterday (Dec. 10), BKU moved an application before the supreme court to intervene in the case challenging the three farm laws.

Taking forward the trend of innovative protests

The ongoing farmers’ strike in India has continued the unusual trend of innovative protests around the world.

For example, last year, the senior citizens of Hong Kong organised a “silver hair” march to show solidarity with young people voicing out against the police brutality.

Earlier in June 2019, protestors gathered in central Hong Kong to mark the fifth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement that bought parts of the city to a standstill for over two months at the end of 2014.  It was called “the Umbrella Movement” because protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves from the tear gas used by police.

Back in India, in December last year, the women of Shaheen Bagh also grabbed the world’s attention. The women mostly Muslim—were protesting against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). One of the women who participated in the protest, popularly known as Bilkis dadi (grandmother), was even named by TIME magazine in its list of “The 100 Most Influential People of 2020.”

The CAA protests in India have witnessed a number of new and interesting ways of protests around the country. From folksongs to azadi (Freedom) chants, which first entered public consciousness with the 2016 Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) agitation, the protestors in India used everything to call out the Modi government for its discriminating policies against the Muslims.