“I don't own farmland, nor did my ancestors,” says Kamaljit Kaur. “But still, I am here to help our farmers in my small way, because I fear that if I don't, I will have to counter corporate greed to put something on my kids' plates.”
Kamaljit, 35, is a teacher from Ludhiana city in Punjab, and along with a few friends she is running two sewing machines in a shaded space at Singhu. They come to the protest site in turns, three days at a time, and fix for free missing shirt-buttons or tears in salwar-kameez outfits of the protesting farmers. Around 200 people turn up every day at their stall.
At Singhu, such sewa is available in many-hued and very generous forms – all as offerings of solidarity with the protests.
Among those serving are Irshad (full name unavailable). In a narrow nook outside the TDI mall in the Kundli industrial area, some four kilometres from the Singhu border, he is vigorously massaging the bare head of a Sikh protestor. Many others are awaiting their turn. Irshad is a barber from Kurukshetra, and says he has come here out of a sense of biradari – brotherhood.
Also on this route, sitting outside his mini-truck, Sardar Gurmik Singh has gathered around him many seeking a free massage to relax their aching muscles, after the long hours of travel in crammed trolleys from Punjab to Singhu. “They are going through so many other kinds of pain right now…” he says, about what brought him here to help.
For Surinder Kumar, a doctor from Chandigarh, sewa has taken on the form of running a medical camp at Singhu, along with other doctors. This is one of numerous medical camps at the protest site – some run by doctors who have come here from as far as Kolkata or Hyderabad. “We are trying to abide by the pledge we took while graduating – by tending to the aged exposed to this biting cold day after day, many staying on open roads,” says Surinder.
To help keep morale high, Satpal Singh and his friends from Ludhiana have transported to Singhu a massive sugarcane-crushing-machine mounted on an open truck. These machines are usually used in sugar mills – at the protest site, the crusher brought by Satpal churns out sweet fresh juice for all who pass by. They use a truck-full of cane every day, bought with donations collected in Aliwal, their village in Ludhiana district.
And on the lawns of the same mall in Kundli, Nihang Amandeep Singh from Bhatinda, while bathing a black stallion, says he is at Singhu to protect Punjab’s agrarian economy. Apart from serving food at a langer near the mall to anyone who comes by, Amandeep and others (all of them Nihangs, who belong to Sikh warrior order) engage in kirtans every evening, near the tents they have pitched in the shade of containers used by the Delhi Police as barricades.
Gurvej Singh from Amritsar, a student at Punjab University, along with other students, distributes a bi-weekly newsletter, Trolley Times, among the farmers camping at Singhu. They have enclosed a wide space with cloth and plastic sheets and placed paper and pens there for anyone to come in and write slogans for a poster – an exhibition of these posters is always on there, and they also run a free library. Members of the Ambedkar Students' Association from Punjab University also run a free library at Singhu, and they produce posters too ( see the cover photo on top ).
At nightfall, when we walk back to Kundli from the Singhu border, we stop many times to warm ourselves at fires around which sit various groups together.
We also visit Baba Gurpal Singh at his tent on that road and receive cups of tea that he always keeps ready. Baba Gurpal, 86, is a renunciate and granthi at Khanpur Gondiya Gurudwara near Patiala. He is a learned man, and gives us a history lesson on Sikh identity-based politics, and how this protest by farmers has crossed those limitations by becoming a pan-Indian movement for the greater common good.
I ask why Baba Gurpal why he, along with his elderly companions, is doing sewa at Singhu, serving tea to all for eight hours a day. Looking at the nightscape of collective smoke and fire, he replies, “It is time for all of us to come out and to do our part, as this has now become a direct conflict between Good and Evil. This is what happened in the epic war of Kurukshetra.”