Gurdev Kaur, a 70-year-old woman farmer from Patiala, gets a call every two hours from her family members, who are concerned for her well being. Kaur, one of the oldest women participants in the ongoing protests, has been camping at Delhi’s Singhu Border for the past three days with thousands of others from Punjab and Haryana who have marched up to the capital to voice dissent against the newly passed farm laws by the Central government.
And Kaur is not the only one.
Hundreds of women farmers have marched to Delhi with their male counterparts to voice their opposition against the new farm laws, which agitators say will change the manner in which agricultural produce is procured and traded .
Septuagenarian Kaur says that when they were told they will all march up to Delhi to protest against the laws, she did not think twice. “In Punjab, we have been attending meeting on our action plan every day for the past two months. We are ready to support the agitation till our last breath,” she said.
Kaur’s husband passed away a few year ago. She has two married sons back home who take care of the house and the family. “My daughters-in-law will take care of the house while we are here. They call me up frequently to ask if I am fine. They are worried because I am old. But I am not alone. There are hundreds of women here to support the cause and we take care of each other. We have our daily doses of medicines and other necessities with us. We can survive well enough,” she said, adding that she also speaks to her grandson daily, who is in Canada.
Sixty five-year-old Amarjeet Kaur, another protester, added that for the last three days they were sleeping in tractor trolleys. “We have brought along mattresses and we sleep in tractor trolleys. We have designated places to take bath and relieve ourselves. We are not used to all this, but it is for a cause in which all of us are together. Most of the women here are the only representatives from their families,” she said.
Donning a salwar kameez and covering their head with a shawl or dupatta, these women participate in the protest at the Singhu Border by the day and as it starts getting dark, retreat to their tractors to prepare the day’s meal. One of them, 50-year-old Charanjeet Kaur said their tractor is at least four kilometers away from the main protest site. “In the afternoon, we sit where our kisan leaders deliver speeches and raise slogans against the current farm laws. By evening, we return to our tractor trolleys, which is our home for now,” she said.
For the past three days, a majority of these women farmers have mainly been occupied in preparing large quantities of food and distributing it among the protesters hrough Langars with the help of other younger farmers.
“Most of our time is spent in cooking meals. We’ve been eating chapati with mixed vegetable curry for the past three days, which we cook ourselves. We’ve brought ration in abundance. We have food to last us for 5-6 months. When we decided to leave for Delhi, each of us contributed different items. While some brought oil, some contributed spices. Someone else donated their stove while others were told to chip on with mattresses and quilts. When our ration gets over, we will bring more. But will return only when our demands are met,” said 62-year-old Baldev Kaur, another woman farmer from Fatehgarh, close to Patiala.
The farmers have been protesting at Singhu Border since Friday when thousands of them reached Delhi’s border, but were restricted from entering the Capital. Clashes later broke out with the police, with the farmers trying to cross through barricades to enter the city. The Delhi police later allotted Sant Nirankari ground, in Burari, to the farmers to continue their agitation. The farmers, however, turned down the offer, continuing to block the Singhu Border and demanding Ramlila Maidan as a protest site, which is close to Lutyens’ Delhi.
Harinder Singh Lakhowal, general secretary, Bharita Kisan Union, Ludhiana said that whoever was with them had volunteered.
“Women have been the backbone of our movement since the beginning. Even in Punjab, they have been taking care of us when it came to food and other necessities and kept our movement going with active participation in all fields. At least 1000-1200 women joined us from Patiala , Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar and other places. We respect them and are deeply thankful to them for their contribution,” Lakhowal said.