“If women in our generation were educated, things would have been different,” says Surjeet Kaur, seated on her verandah in Kishangarh Sedha Singh Wala. Her granddaughter and grandson, not much older than she was when forced to drop out of school in Class 5, sit beside her.

“Education opens a person’s third eye,” the 63-year-old emphasises.

Her 75-year-old neighbour, Jaswinder Kaur nods in agreement. “When women go out, they learn about the world,” she says.

While they never had a chance to complete their own schooling, another event, they say, taught them a great deal. Surjeet and Jaswinder were among the 16 women from their village who camped at the Delhi borders for 13 months during the historic farmers’ protest in 2020-2021. For over a year, lakhs of farmers like them occupied Delhi’s borders, protesting against three contentious farm laws introduced by the union government, fearing they would undermine the minimum support price (MSP) system and benefit private traders and corporations. Read PARI's full coverage of the farm protests here .

When this reporter visited Kishangarh Sedha Singh Wala in May 2024, the village, like many across Punjab, was bustling with preparations for the harvest season. Residents were also gearing up for the General Elections on June 1, with the political climate heated by agitations against the ruling party's anti-farmer actions.

“If BJP wins again, they will again bring these [farm] laws one way or another,” says 60-year-old Jarnail Kaur, whose family owns 10 acres of land in Kishangarh Sedha Singh Wala. “We need to vote wisely.”

(Update: Harsimrat Kaur Badal  of Shiromani Akali Dal won the Bhatinda Lok Sabha seat in the 2024 elections. Results were announced on June 4, 2024).

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: Surjeet Kaur at her home in Kishangarh village. Right: Jaswinder Kaur pictured at home in the same village of Punjab's Mansa district

The lessons from the farm protest struggle, called off in December 2021, still resonate through the village. “The government is trying to take away our livelihood,” says Jaswinder Kaur. “How can we let them?”

There are other worries too. “Just a few years ago, hardly any children from Kishangarh Sedha Singh Wala migrated to other countries,” says Surjeet. Her thoughts linger on her niece, Kushaldeep Kaur, who recently moved to Brampton, Canada, for higher studies — a departure that has left a void. “It’s because of unemployment,” Surjeet asserts. “If there were jobs here, why would they go abroad?” she asks pointedly.

So a minimum support price for their crops and employment for their children and grandchildren emerged as critical issues for voters in this village in the upcoming elections.

“They (politicians) keep us villagers busy with issues of old age pension, roads and sewage in every election,” says Surjeet. “People from villages have been voting on these issues for as long as I can remember.”

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Surjeet Kaur tending to the onions and garlic on her farm (left) and walking amidst the crops (right) on her farm, ready to be harvested

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: Machines have saved women a lot of time in the fields. This is a big reason for why they were and are able to participate in protests. Right: The chaff from the harvest being collected


Kishangarh Sedha Singh Wala, a village in the south of Punjab’s Mansa district, is known for its pivotal role in the PEPSU Muzara Movement against the Biswedari system, which saw landless farmers gain ownership rights in 1952 after a long struggle. On March 19, 1949, four protesters were killed here, and their descendants were honoured during the Delhi farm protests 2021-2021.

Despite the village's historic activism, most women had never joined a protest before the recent farm stir. Now, they eagerly seek such opportunities to learn about the world. “Earlier, we had no time,” says Surjeet Kaur. “We worked in the farms, harvested cotton and spun threads. But now everything is done by machines.”

Her sister-in-law, Manjeet Kaur says, “cotton isn’t planted here anymore, and people don’t wear khaddar [khadi]. The whole process of weaving at home is gone.” She feels that this shift has made it easier for women to participate in protests.

While some women in this village have had their share of leadership, from their conversations, it's clear that those positions were more titular than practical.

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: Kishangarh Sedha Singh Wala played a key role in the PEPSU Muzara Movement, where landless farmers won ownership rights in 1952. Right: Sisters-in-law Surjeet Kaur and Manjeet Kaur chatting about their day

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: Manjeet Kaur crocheting at home. Right: Kulwant Singh (on mic), Manjeet Kaur's husband, is a leader of the BKU (Ekta) Dakaunda - Dhaner faction

Manjeet was the first woman to serve as sarpanch of Kishangarh Sedha Singh Wala, a village with a population of 6,000. Both women are married to cousin brothers. “The first time I contested, I was elected unanimously.” That year, 1998, the seat was reserved for women. “In the next election, I contested against men and won by 400-500 votes,” recalls Manjeet, knitting at home.

Though 12 other women have held the role too, Manjeet says men often made the decisions. “I was the only one who knew how to get things done,” she says, crediting her Class 10 education and support from her husband, Kulwant Singh, a prominent leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta) Dakaunda and former sarpanch. He served from 1993 for five years.

But, Surjeet says, “it is a tough election where people do force each other to vote for a certain candidate. Women are asked by their husbands or by their relatives to vote for a specific candidate. It is not so in the Lok Sabha elections.”

Since 2009, Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has represented the Bathinda constituency, which includes this village. She is seeking re-election in the upcoming General Election. Other candidates are IAS turned politician Parampal Kaur Sidhu (BJP), former MLA Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu (Congress) and Punjab agriculture minister Gurmeet Singh Khuddian from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

PHOTO • Courtesy: Manjit Singh Dhaner
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Left: Women of Kishangarh village participating in a protest in Delhi in March 2024 under the leadership of Manjit Singh Dhaner, president, BKU (Ekta) Dakaunda . Right: Manjeet Kaur (extreme left) and Surjeet Kaur (standing next to Manjeet) along with other women from their village attending the Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat in Jagraon, Ludhiana earlier this year

The Delhi protests of 2020-2021 proved to be a game changer for a lot of women. This time nobody, they say, can sway their votes. “Women were like prisoners at home. These protests, which are also like schools for us, have taught us so much” says Surjeet.

Recalling their journey to Delhi on November 26, 2020, Surjeet continues, “we went unprepared. Everyone thought they (security forces) would not let the farmers pass and we would sit wherever stopped.” She notes the minimal equipment they carried for their prolonged encampment at the Tikri border near Bahadurgarh. "We did not have equipment to prepare food, so we improvised. Neither did we have any arrangements for toilets and bathrooms." And yet, they stayed on for over a year – leading to the repealing of the three laws.

Despite the lack of a higher education, Surjeet says she was always interested in reading and learning more. “Women feel like if they were educated, they could have contributed better to the protest.”


Harsimrat Kaur Badal recently visited the village to campaign. “They come only during elections,” says Surjeet Kaur, while enjoying a handful of mulberries from her field.

PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi
PHOTO • Arshdeep Arshi

Surjeet Kaur with her daughter-in-law and grandchildren near their farm (left) and plucking mulberries (right) at her farm

In September 2020, Badal resigned from the Union Cabinet in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. “She quit only when farmers started agitating against them (Shiromani Akali Dal),” says Surjeet, sceptical of the resignation. “Before that, she and Parkash Singh Badal, the former Chief Minister, were telling farmers about the benefits of the three farm laws,” she says, annoyed.

After enduring 13 months of harsh conditions in solidarity with fellow farmers, Surjeet remained unswayed by Badal’s current campaign. "I did not go to listen to her," she says firmly.

Arshdeep Arshi

Arshdeep Arshi is an independent journalist and translator based in Chandigarh and has worked with News18 Punjab and Hindustan Times. She has an M Phil in English literature from Punjabi University, Patiala.

Other stories by Arshdeep Arshi
Editor : Vishaka George

Vishaka George is Senior Editor at PARI. She reports on livelihoods and environmental issues. Vishaka heads PARI's Social Media functions and works in the Education team to take PARI's stories into the classroom and get students to document issues around them.

Other stories by Vishaka George