He has written 115 poems for the farmers movement. It wouldn’t do without one today - a day that will go down in the history books. So, he has hastily penned few lines on a page, which seems to be torn out of his grandchildren’s school notebook. A young reporter with a camera and a microphone, as his journalism toolkit, is busy recording and relaying him as he sings his poem for the tenth time to the tenth set of camera and microphone. Another twenty sets of toolkits will follow as the day progresses at Ghazipur border township of farmers, of resistance, of hope (and today of celebration as well).
It isn’t much of a poem, he isn’t much of a singer, the toolkits that relay him don’t have much to do with journalism, but it is such times, and within these times it is such a day. A day when they have to get that ‘byte’ from a farmer at one of the Delhi borders. So, there are hundreds of ‘journalists’ here today. The farmers are in a good mood today and even the usual ‘channels-non-grata’ ‘the Godi media’ ‘the Noida film city crews’ like ZEE, AAJTAK, etc. also roam freely.
His words are a rebuke. A rebuke to the supreme commander.
“Annadata ki baaton ko jo pehle maan gaye hote, Ek saal se jhel rahe, aise halaat nahi hote.’
A rebuke to the supreme commander - who has only a few hours back put on almost 20 minutes of crafty storytelling performance over national television. His has been a govt with heart and soul only for farmers. Small farmers in particular. O fellow countrymen – let me tell you what you don’t know - there are ten crore small and marginal farmers in our country. O fellow countrymen – let me tell you we have been working tirelessly for their upliftment. And in this mega campaign of upliftment of farmers we brought these three farm laws. O fellow countrymen – thank you for such wide acceptance and appreciation of these laws (desh ke kone kone mein, koti koti kisaanon ne iska swagat kiya). But I couldn’t convince some farmers. I tried. Poori vinamrta se, khule mann se samjahne ki koshish ki - Barricades, tear gas shelling, water canons, lathi charge, shooting them, mowing them with cars (not any, our minister’s cars), we tried everything. Anek madhyamon se, vyaktigat aur samuhik - Hostile media (Khalistani, aatankwadi), hostile police (hundreds of arrest, thousands of cases), hostile party cadres (attack on farmer protest sites), hostile govt (andolanjivi, parjivi, bicholiye). We engaged with them to discuss everything in every way - Ye sari baatein desh ke saamne hain, isliye main inpe adhik vistaar mein nahi jayoonga. Despite such hard tapasya these few farmers didn’t understood the bountiful beautiful benevolent blessed laws (4Bs… you know how I like my acronyms!). Diye ke parkash jaisa satya.. kuch kisan bhayion ko hum samjha nahi paye. O my tapasya fell short! I visited mountains for tapasya many times. You saw those ‘kodak moments’ didn’t you? I think I ought to do more of these! Anyways, my apologies. We are repealing the laws. For the benefit of our country (we don’t ever do anything for any other purpose anyways). Sabhi andolan rat kisan sathiyo (whoever ever said andolanjivi/parjivi) - go home.
A rebuke to the supreme commander. ‘Anna data ki taakat ko jo pehle jaan gaye hote, Ek saal se jhel rahe, aise halaat nahi hote.’
His words are a criticism. A criticism of the mainstream media.
‘Aur media ko bhi jaagna hoga, satya desh ko dikhana hoga.’
A criticism of the ones who choose the side of the powerful, of the state, of mis-dis-information, of outright lies and propaganda. Some of these are here today but are keeping their distance from this poem, and if they accidently record it not sending it across to the studios, to the newsrooms and editors who see what the supreme commander says as the holy gospel. I ask the ZEE reporter- ‘Bahut dinon baad aaye hain idhar?’ A sheepish smile and ‘Nahi hum aate the.’ Can’t help the follow-up - ‘ZEE ka logo utaarke?’ Another sheepish grin. Media cars, vans, cameras along with the robots who carry the newsroom instructions have stormed this place today. There are more reporters and cameras here today than there were any other day since the beginning of the farmers movement. They appear to outnumber the farmers today! I look up at the skies, at the black, winged, scavengers in the sky (the Ghazipur landfill nearby is their home) and text Sandhu bhaji, “The media vultures here are outnumbered only by the real ones.”
A criticism of the mainstream media – ‘sahi reporting karte agar tum, na aarop lage hote”
His words are a tribute. A tribute to a farmers leader.
“Arre dhanya hamare Senapati ka, lal hai wo is mitti ka”.
He is of course talking about his union leader Rakesh Tikait. Nearly a year back, in the very first days of setting up of these tractor-trolley-tent townships of resistance someone (from another union), almost at this very same place told me that Tikait will sell out. Much credit to Tikait for defying all odds and through his ‘tapasya’ allowing this poet to pen above line. And much credit to him for his leadership and for his tears.
A tribute to a farmers leader. ‘Hote nahi Rakesh Tikait…’ At the mention of Tikait’s name the gathering behind the poet-singer erupts in claps and shouts.
As I stand at a short distance listening to this elderly poet-singer pump all his energy into singing his words, a young reporter and his smartphone-cameraman walk towards me. Will I talk with them? I point to the elderly farmers standing nearby and ask them to talk to them. ‘We want to talk with a Sikh farmer.’ Such specific demands! But in this township of resistance which sustained with the help of Nanak’s langars, on the Gurupurab day a langar of interviews is on. Few elderly sardarjis are having tea nearby. It took a little convincing and encouragement, but soon they are ready to face the smartphone-cameraman and the young reporter’s questions (Kya aap aaj border pe gurupurab mana rahe hain? Kale kanoon repeal hone pe kya kehna chahenge? kya modi ne ye faisla UP chunav ko dekhte huye liya hai? Aap ghar waapis kab jayenge? …)
My phone rings. And it is a very happy Sukhdev Singh Sangojla on the other end congratulating me. Fate made him a face of the farmers movement and a symbol of state brutality. The image captured by Ravi Chaturvedi on 27th Nov 2020 travelled far and wide. He himself is a simple straightforward shy farmer. He is so shy that despite many requests, despite him being a face of the movement, he never got onto any stage to make a speech. For him that one photo was speech enough. For him having offered his body and having accepted the marks the fiber-reinforced lathis of the state left behind was all the words that were needed to give courage to the movement. How to find the words to thank those who made this small victory of democratic values possible? ‘Sukhdev Singh ji, you deserve all the congratulations today. For taking the blows for the movement. For being the body and soul of the movement.’
Sun is setting beyond the hill that is Ghazipur landfill. Scavengers in the sky are heading towards their resting places for the night. On ground the clamor of microphones and cameras continues. Reports and feeds on youtube /social media channels of small-independent-reporters carry the notes of farmers triumph. The big media reports are adding to shouting matches going on the TV screens by their live-from-the-ground reporting, trying to spin this into a supreme-commander win/master-stroke/something (they are here today, tomorrow they will be spinning some other yarn at some other place).Last rays of day’s Sun kiss the morcha, the tractor-trolley-tent township. These stand proud today. Like they were yesterday, and like they will be tomorrow. They are indeed relieved today – at this small win. But they will continue tomorrow and for as many days as it is needed, till the black laws are struck down in black and white, till the parliament undo a violation of the parliament. Till then these townships stand guard of the democracy. Till then these not-very-great poets will continue penning not-very-great poetry on the pages of their grandchildren’s notebooks to keep the spirits of resistance high. Till then these-not-so big reporters will continue reporting over their social media channels, sending bits of truth your way through the maze of mis-dis-information and propaganda. Till then the bodies of farmers stand ready for any blows that may come. Till then their sweat and tears will keep feeding this river of resistance.