Protest in the day, study at night: Farmers’ children pitch in at Delhi’s borders

New Delhi: Eleven-year-old Gursimrat Kaur, a resident of Mangat village in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district and a Class 6 student, has her exams later this month. So, while packing essentials for the farmers protest march to Delhi in November, the young girl picked up all her books.

“I study whenever I get time,” she said, now camped at Singhu border with her parents and living in a bus. “We had been protesting against the farm bills in Punjab as well. But that doesn’t mean we have to miss out on studies. Like all times, I will score an A+ this term as well.”

Kaur, who works with her mother Sukhbir in the fields and identities herself as a farmer, read the translated version of the three farm bills in Punjabi before coming to the protest and felt the new reform that did away with a network of government-controlled agricultural markets hurt her prospects. “We are all farmers and want to protect our livelihood and that is why we are here,” said Kaur.

She gets lessons on WhatsApp. The tests are mostly conducted online.

Sukhbir Kaur said the parents didn’t force the children to attend the protests but that younger people got wind of the protests and planning from social media. “They know what’s happening and want to protest on their own. We have been protesting ever since the laws were passed in our village and our daughter has always joined us.”

Kaur is among many children who have accompanied their parents from different parts of Punjab to the borders of Delhi. They are spending their nights on highways, in tents and on tracker trolleys, supporting the stir against the three farm bills, but also finding time to revise their lessons, catch up on syllabus and coordinate with teachers on WhatsApp.

Like Kaur, Harman Singh has been at Singhu border since Friday. His day begins with sloganeering with the farmers at 7am and ends with his poring on the screen of his smartphone, going through the assignments or notes sent throughout the day.

“We can continue our studies and fight for our rights. It is not an either-or situation. I wake up early in the morning, join the protests during the day, and study for a couple of hours at night on our smartphone,” said the 14-year-old from Sangha village in Punjab’s Mansa district.

“This is not just a fight for our elders. Our families will be affected by this and so all of us need to agitate while maintaining education as our priority,” said Singh, who has completed two chapters from his Class 9 Punjabi textbook and one from his Science textbook in the past five days.

Singh, who is at Singhu with his relatives while his parents are in Hisar, said his classes had moved online earlier this year when the Covid-19 pandemic forced schools to shut down. “Since our learning is mostly happening online, we can be anywhere and continue our studies. Our teachers send study material on WhatsApp that we can revise at any time,” he said.

Other children at the protest site also said that they could travel for the protests because there was no stipulation to attend physical classes. Punjab opened government schools for students of classes 9 to 12 last month, but attendance is voluntary and only to seek guidance from teachers.

Mehek Preet Khatkar, a Class 7 student from Mangowal village in SBS Nagar district of Punjab, said she decided to join the protests because online classes were anyway not helpful and she wouldn’t be missing out on physical teaching. “Since the Covid-19 crisis struck, we only learnt through the online mode, which did not help us a lot. So, we won’t miss out on studies if we are here to protest. Also, what use will our marksheet be if we lose our livelihood?”

Sucha Singh, one of the organisers of the protest and a member of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, said the children at the protest had grown up aware of their surroundings. “They have seen the hardships that their families face and understand what these farm bills would mean for them. The children want to come to protest because they know that their future will be in crisis if they are not here to protect their lands now,” he said.

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