Water cannons started up at full spate at Haryana’s Sonepat around 11 pm amid the cold wave as the police tried to disperse a small group of Punjab farmers who would not be dissuaded from their march to Delhi for an anti-farm law protest. The group has been talking to the police through the evening from across a trench and a barricade, requesting passage.
Since evening, the group of around 200 men had been standing in the middle of the road shouting slogans. Behind the barricades a small police team waited, accompanied by water cannons and the necessary arsenal for riot control. Around 9 in the evening, the tension in the tiny lit up area, surrounded by a sea of dark, showed the farmers were in no mood to pack up for the night.
But going forward was not easy either. Not only had the police dug up the road, the earth from the trench has been piled high so that anyone from the other side would have a hard time reaching the barricades.
The little group is from Punjab. They are among the thousands that managed to breach the sealed border of Haryana’s BJP government this morning in face of stiff resistance from the police and make their way through the state.
For them, the bigger challenge is getting the Centre to repeal the three farm laws, which, they say is a threat to their livelihood.
For nearly three months, the farmers in Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against the laws, which the Centre says ushered in farm sector reforms by freeing farmers from the clutches of middlemen and allowing them to sell produce anywhere in the country.
The farmers and opposition parties contend that the laws could lead to government stopping the system of buying grain at guaranteed prices, which would leave them at the mercy of big corporates.
Waving flags, the men are heard shouting slogans against the Central government.
Simarjit Singh Bains, an MLA of Punjab’s Lok Insaaf Party, is apparently leading the team and is expected to take part in the negotiations. The MLA had been one of the key leaders in the farmers’ three-month protest against the Centre’s farm laws.
In September, he had announced a plan for a motorbike rally to Delhi, which was to end with picketing at the Parliament House.
The police, criticised through the day for use of excessive force on peaceful protesters, said they were holding the fort for their senior officers, who were expected to conduct negotiations.
The protesters remained unperturbed. Asked how they intended to take their modified tractors through the dug up road, they said they would figure it out. So far they had.