NEW DELHI — In the ‘Tent City near the Singhu border, the ground zero of farmers agitation, Kanu Priya, 24, is giving instructions. She has a small black notebook that has bullet points on all that needs to be done the next day. In-between, she is also telling some men to make posters warning against using abusive language or substance abuse at the protest site. “Its important to make some things very clear,” she smiles.
Punjabi young men, twice her size listen intently as she guides them on the logistics. This first ever woman President of Panjab University’s (Chandigarh) Students Council who has been here at the protest site from the beginning wants some more toilets for women in the establishments close-by. A quick word to a few people and they assure Kanu that something would be done.
Close to us, men across generations are busy chopping vegetables and serving tea. One of them is massaging an elderly farmer’s legs.
Even as we get served, Santosh, pursuing her doctorate thesis in Sociology is convinced that this is a ‘revolution’ that goes beyond the overwhelming opposition of the farm bills. “Several of the major committee are headed by educated young women or boast of their presence in prominent roles. Men are not expecting us to make chapattis. This is what is most important — acceptance of caliber. Movements are never about only one thing. They carry so many sub-layers within them.”
Kanupriya smiles that men will take with them a lot of things from the protests, final result of the agitation notwithstanding. “This place being a fertile ground for daily evening discussions in which both the genders participate, it has been an eye-opener for many men, who traditionally have very little interaction with the opposite sex and imagine only stereotypical roles for them or how they are portrayed in Punjabi films and music videos. And yes, you won’t hear any cat-calls here.”
Even as the shades of dusk fall, the road is still full of women of different age groups moving around the protest site. “Majority of people are from the countryside where only the men folk occupy the streets post evening. Here, our roles are not dictated by the clock, something very new for everyone here,” says Santosh.
Stressing that whenever the middle-class sees young educated women participate in any protest, the ‘acceptability’ of the movement improves, Kanupriya points, “Look at the CAA protests, the moment women students from Jamia Millia Islamia jumped in, a new dimension was was added, suddenly a layer of universality emerged. Women seeing members of their own sex in a protest feel a certain strength.”
Adding that this movement has broken several stereotypes, and not just pertaining to women in prominent roles, Raman, 21, from Bhatinda points out how many families are sending young girls in the age group of 15-17 to witness for themselves a “revolution in the making.” “We take care of them and guide them. It’s not just about acquainting them with the protest underway. Also, have you noticed that young men are not playing double meaning songs, almost synonymous with contemporary Punjabi music on their tractors? Well, we don’t know how they will behave back home, at least they know how they should.”
Jassi Sangha, 33, part of the team that set up the library and publishing ‘Tolley Times’ believes that is important that educated people with a ‘purpose’ be seen in any movement as the absence of the same may lead to unfavourable narratives. “We have seen how the mainstream television media has tried to portray that every youngsters is just listening to songs, eating pizzas and enjoying the ‘mela feel’. So many of us are engaging with local kids, teaching them, giving them books and ensuring that they understand the importance of hygiene. For us, it is important to give back to the immediate environment of the protest.”
Part of the Nauhaar Foundation based in Amritsar, Prabhjeet Kaur, 30, is elated that despite the patriarchy that reigns supreme in most of the northern part of the country, the protest is witnessing women as equal partners. Involved with ‘Sanjhi Such’, a space set up to facilitate debates and interactions at the Singhu, now also operational at the Tikri border, she says, “I can be myself here, not mould myself into how I am ‘supposed’ to be. And that gives me a lot of hope, even if for a small moment in time.” — IANS