The old man and being the face of protest

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It has been four months now that this 82-year-old man has made Matka Chowk in the heart of Chandigarh his home. Waving the yellow farmers flag at passing vehicles, undaunted by the heat, biting cold or downpour, Labh Singh can be persuasive if you dont ‘acknowledge him with a honk. Hell keep waving the flag at the vehicle till he hears a sound.

A landlord from Landran in Punjab who owns 18-acres of land in Nabha and practiced farming for decades, this ‘face’ of the ongoing protests in Chandigarh is not new to confronting the establishment — for the past 20 years, he has been staying under a bridge at the Sector-17 market, raising his voice against different issues being faced by the residents and serving ‘langar’.

In fact, on June 22, the Police removed his tent from Matka Chowk and took him for questioning at the Sector 17 Police station, inciting people from different classes, students and activists to stage a demonstration demanding his immediate release. He was let go after four hours of questioning.

As evening embarks, hundreds of people join him in the protest everyday. With many cars stopping to donate packaged water, food items, juice and lassi, Baba, as Labh Singh is addressed by most, smiles, “I will be here as long as the government does not take back the three new farm laws. Let’s see who can wait out longer. I have already protested against the farm laws at five other sites including the Singhu border.”

Although the Police took away his swords citing security reasons, he brings out another pair. “Run-ins with the Police are nothing new. I have been having them for decades.”

As the number of people swell-up — around 500 hundred, Singh asserts that this is a silent protest. “There have been times when the cops came and asked me to move. Those who join in the protest now stand on the sideways. It is after all a peaceful and silent protest. It is my way of show of solidarity with every farmer against the laws — ‘Look, I am also here.'”

Not really missing his family, he smiles that they visit him often. “My wife and daughter-in-law were here a few days back. They know I am doing alright.”

At night, around 10 youngsters from Naujawan Kisan Ekta stay with Singh. Vikrant Singh and Happy Singh from the collective say that the elder quite a hit with people. “So many people want to get photographed with him. You can’t complain against the weather or any discomfort when you see him here day and night.”

Amandeep Kaur from PSU (Lalkar) says it is an inspiration for activists like her to see the elderly and kids stand together. “Protests were not allowed here for a long time as this is a VVIP area. Finally, this place is being finally reclaimed by the people. That in itself is a victory. A city which has always be known for its elitist culture — huge bungalows, big cars and a privileged outlook is now taking the side of the farmer. Is it not interesting?”

(Sukant Deepak can be reached at sukant.d@ians)

–IANS

sukant/rs