As farmers protest, Good Samaritans at borders open their hearts and homes

For years, Siddharth Rathee has run a local business in Haryana’s Bahadurgarh, but has turned a philanthropist for farmers in the past week. The 26-year-old has been marshalling funds from his father and uncle, both in the United States, and marshaled about two dozen friends with one purpose: feed the thousands of farmers camped on the outer fringes of the Capital for five days to push the Centre to scrap three farm laws.

Rathee and his friends have even put up posters announcing their free services or ‘langar seva’ along a 15-km stretch of Bahadurgarh Road. The Hindi posters, stuck on metro pillars, walls and outside shops, promise “farmer brothers” any essential item they need — from food to water and medicines. “They (farmers) have been feeding us all our lives and now it is our turn, “ said Rathee. “The posters will ensure that farmers anywhere along the stretch are able to reach us for help.”

Rathee is not alone.

Scores of local residents, organisations and establishments at Delhi’s three borders –Tikri, Singhu and Chilla – have coalesced into an unlikely army of volunteers to help farmers tide over hunger, disease and the chilly weather. They have organised community kitchens, opened their homes, drawn water from their local supply and offered their washrooms to the agitating farmers.

Others travelled from Delhi and local markets to supply the protesters with fresh fruit and milk. When the supply of household items such as sugar depleted, many pitched into replenish stocks.

Jagtar Singh is one of them.

A businessman from Rohini in Delhi, Singh travelled to Singhu border on Monday with battery operated lights to help the farmers celebrate Gurpurab, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. “My work doesn’t allow me to join their protest in person, but this is the least I can do for my farmer brothers,” he said.

A pressing problem for the farmers – some of whom are old and ailing – is the chronic lack of toilets. To resolve this, Bharat Sharma, who lives near the Singhu border, opened his homes to farmers, used a motor pump to fill his overhead tank multiple times a day so that the farmers did not lack facilities or water. “If I were protesting for my rights, I would have wanted toilet facility,” Sharma said.

Other residents in the locality offered to launder clothes, loan toothbrush and paste, shoes and shared their phone numbers in case of an emergency. Restrooms have also been thrown open by fuel stations and a private hospital.

Jarnail Singh, Aam Aadmi Party MLA from Tilak Nagar, said the absence of toilets was felt by his party and they set up portable toilets at the Singhu border, as the site falls within the jurisdiction of the Delhi government.

“We have also opened langars at the two borders. But our aim is to ensure that farmers keep receiving their supply of tea leaves, sugar and paper cups as these are fast depleting. Mosquito nets are another essential item urgently needed and we are trying to provide as many as possible,” Jarnail Singh said.

Many gurdwaras are also running community kitchens. “We are capable of feeding even one lakh farmers for six whole months. For now, we are organising langars at all three border points,” said Manjinder Singh Sirsa, president of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.

Farmers say they are overwhelmed by the response from local residents. “The people here have made us their family so much that we don’t miss our families back home. They have gone to the extent of offering to wash our clothes. One family said that we didn’t even have to bring our own soap while visiting their home for toilet,” said Harjinder Singh, a farmer from Ropar .

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