2,000 women protesters head to Delhi to put farm suicides on centre stage

Over 2,000 women left for Delhi’s Tikri border in 17 buses and 10 trolleys on Tuesday from Punjab’s Malwa region for a special protest being planned at the border morcha to highlight farmer suicides. On Wednesday afternoon, these women will protest holding pictures of Punjab farmers who committed suicide after being caught in the debt trap.

Among these 2,000 women protesters, majority are widows, sisters or mothers of farmers who committed suicide. Tuesday’s convoy also included a few men related to suicide victims.

“Many of us have not even got Rs 3 lakh compensation announced by the Punjab government, while many others are still trying to get their lives back on track. It is not just about compensation, it is about showing that if Punjab farmer is the richest in the country, why does he commit suicide. All that is shown in data is not the true picture,” said Tej Kaur, widow of Jagraj Singh from Lehra Khurd village of Sangrur.

Six buses ferrying protesters left from Sangrur, 3 from Bathinda, 2 each bus from Barnala, Ludhiana and Mansa, while 1 each left from Patiala and Moga.

Apart from this, over 10 trolleys left for Tikri border Tuesday, informed Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan). The initiative is a result of an appeal by the Ugrahan group to families to highlight their stories of farm suicides at the Delhi protest site.

Charanjeet Kaur, from Bhucho Khurd area of Bathinda, has gone to Delhi with a framed picture of her husband, Manjeet Singh, who committed suicide in 2018. Vikkar Singh of Barnala, who left in a tractor trolley, had seen his son, Gurmeet Singh, committed suicide in December 2007.

Jasvir Kaur’s husband had committed suicide in 2018 in Bhainibagha village of Mansa. She is also one among those who are in the bus from Mansa to Delhi’s Tikri border.

Sangrur had the maximum number of widows who have gone to Tikri border. Villages from the district from where women have gone to take part in Wednesday’s protest are Lehra Khurd, Kotra Lehal, Sekhuwas, Gagga, Khokhar Kalan and few others.

Kamalpreet Kaur, a farmer union leader from Barnala, said, “Many women have not got compensation, many others are facing hardships after their husbands committed suicide. They face many challenges like their in-laws send them back to their parents’ house and they are on their own to raise their children.”

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Saudagar Singh Ghudani leader of BKU (Ugrahan) from Ludhiana said, “Two buses went to Tikri border from Ludhiana, most of them were women.”

Harinder Kaur Bindu, vice-president of BKU Ugrahan, said, “We had been raising the issue of farmer suicides in Punjab as well. But now that we have come to Delhi, Centre also needs to hear how debt is killing farmers and the government is not serious about waiving farm debt.”

Punjab has seen 16,606 farm suicide cases from 2000-2015. This data was revealed after a study done by three universities — Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, Punjabi University, Patiala and Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

Out of these 87 per cent were due to debt and 76 per cent were done by small farmers with landholdings less than 3 acres.

Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan said, “According to our data, over 40,000 suicides have happened in Punjab since 2000. The government got one study done from three universities, but never tried to find out the reasons and how to stop them in future as suicides continue to happen even now”.

In 2017, Kisan Mazdoor Khudkushi Peerat Parivar Committee was formed by one Kirandeep Kaur of Mansa, whose father had committed suicide in 2016. This committee meets on a monthly basis to work towards helping the widows of farmers who have committed suicide. Members of this committee, however, will not be protesting in Delhi on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, with farmers from different states camping at Delhi’s Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur border points for over two weeks, several roads have been closed, and commuters advised to take alternative routes to avoid inconvenience.

Delhi Police said Singhu, Auchandi, Piau Maniyari, Sabholi and Mangesh borders were closed, and commuters have been advised to take alternative routes via Lampur, Safiabad and Singhu school toll tax borders while traffic has been diverted from Mukarba and GTK road. Outer Ring Road, GTK road and NH-44 can be avoided, they said.

The Ghazipur border also remains closed for traffic coming from Ghaziabad to Delhi due to the protest. Commuters have been advised to take other routes via Anand Vihar, DND, Chilla, Apsara and Bhopra borders.

Multi-layered cemented barriers, additional police force and barbed wires formed the first layer of security at the Singhu border protest site. The second layer of barricades deployed by the Delhi Police is being guarded by a team of Rapid Action Force along with personnel from the paramilitary forces.

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