New Delhi, February 07:
Amid the large-scale police deployment and a host of steps taken to curtail the movement of farmers, the three-hour nationwide “chakka jam” — a blockade of national and state highways — called by farmers protesting against the Centre’s new farm laws, went off peacefully on Saturday at the three protest venues at Delhi’s Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders.
In view of the violence in the Capital on Republic Day during the tractor rally taken out by farmers, in which one person died and several others were injured, the Delhi Police had put in place a thick security blanket to ensure that no untoward incident takes place during the chakka jam.
Delhi Police spokesperson Chinmoy Biswal said, “Considering the violence that erupted on January 26 during the tractor rally, we did not want to take any chances. Elaborate security arrangements were put in place and full-scale vigil was maintained to check any untoward incident and traffic-related inconvenience. No violence happened on Saturday and the traffic remained normal.”
The blockade was not observed inside the Capital. Highways leading to Delhi were free from the blockade so that farmers could reach the protest sites. There was no blockade in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh either as decided by farmer unions, for the same reason.
However, all three protest venues saw thinner crowds on Saturday with farmer leaders saying that a large number of protesters had returned to their respective states to take part in the chakka jam there.
At the Singhu border, farmers did not stop any private or shared public vehicle from plying along the stretch where the protest has been taking place for over two months now. “These locals have supported us from Day One. They have already done more than their bit for our movement. So we decided not to impose the jam on them,” said Jagmohan Singh, one of the many volunteers there.
At Tikri, farmer leaders on the stage continued to remind the participants to hold the chakka jam as a non-confrontational event. Several young farmers, who had been camping at Tikri border, went back to their villages and home towns to lead the blockade of state highways there.
“We have been sending out messages to our brothers in other states that instead of coming to Delhi for protests, on Saturday they should support the movement by blocking their respective state highways and internal roads. The gathering here might be smaller than usual, but that is because the participation at the state level is immense,” said Sahil Kamboj, a volunteer.
Despite peaceful scenes at the Tikri border, the security arrangements near the protest site were intense on Saturday. Between Friday and Saturday night, the Delhi Police had set up a multilayered security cordon comprising their personnel, paramilitary personnel, concrete barricades, barbed wire fencing, and nail boards drilled onto roads to stop farmers from entering the national capital.
On the roadside near the police barricades in Ghazipur, farmers prepared a small patch of land for cultivation and planted sugarcane and potatoes.
Lata Chaudhary, a farmer from Baruat, said, “The police have set up a multilayered barricading and have drilled nails onto the road to prevent our movement as though we are criminals. Today, we planted sugarcane here in front of them (police) to make them realise that we are just farmers and they should not wage a war against us.”
On Friday, Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait had planted flower saplings beside the police barricades. The police, on their part, added another layer of barricades on Saturday and allegedly removed the flowers planted by protesters. “The government fixed iron nails in our path, but we have planted flowers next to them, Tikait said.
At 3pm, farmers gathered at the Ghazipur border site started honking their vehicles in unison. However, at Singhu border there was no such collective honking. “In the rest of the country, the jam was for three hours. Here, it has been going on for 73 days now. If the government can’t hear us despite so long, our involvement in the chakka jam won’t make a difference,” said Manmeet Kaur, a farmer from Gurdaspur in Punjab.
“You can see that thousands of farmers have gathered here. The crowd is sitting for kilometres from here. If we wanted to cause trouble, their (police’s) barricades will not be able to stop us. Our movement was always meant to be peaceful. On January 26, some unruly elements tried to defame farmers and our movement but that was a political ploy,” said Daya Ram, a farmer from Mansa in Punjab.