We use cookies on South Asian Today and measure activity across the website, provide content from third parties. Please be aware that your experience may be disrupted until you accept cookies.

South Asian Magazine Logo

Roots with South Asian Today: Farmers' Protests - Women take charge while Punjab could lose its culture

Season 1, Episode 07 with Anuroop Kaur Sandhu

In the seventh episode of Roots with South Asian Today, we speak with India based researcher and preserver of the Punjabi Culture, Anuroop Kaur Sandhu, to understand the role of women in the ongoing Farmers Protests in India along with how Punjab could lose its traditional food and culture if the Modi government does not withdraw the controversial farm laws.

Farmers Protests' are the world's largest strike in history. 


Dilpreet  00:00

You're listening to Roots with South Asian today. This podcast is being recorded in Australia on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to the elders past, present and emerging. Sovereignty was never ceded. It has been several months since the farmers protests against the three new farm laws by the Indian government to prioritize agriculture have taken over the country. Lakhs of farmers, mostly from Punjab, have been sitting on the roads demanding the laws be withdrawn, making it the biggest strike in the world's history. Several farmers and activists have since died. Police Brutality has shot up and yet Prime Minister Modi seems to be in no mood to make amends. My guest today is a research scholar at Delhi University and a preserver of the Punjabi culture, Anuroop Kaur Sandhu, who will tell us more about the role of women in these protests, and how the new farm laws can harm the Punjabi culture and tradition. Thank you so much for joining me. I know.

Anu  01:12

Thanks for asking me to speak on the topic.

Dilpreet  01:15

I know your blog, Human Cost of Farmers Protest, has been collecting data of all the lives these ongoing protests have taken, please tell us how you have been continuing with the process and the purpose that the blog serves.

Anu  01:27

See, the purpose of the blog is put right up there in the first paragraph of the blog itself that says that it is to document the human cost of the protest, because that is one thing which is irreparable. And it is for this reason that the protests must continue. It is for this reason that people should understand the the cost of their struggle. It is not a picnic, as it has been projected in so many different... so many different news channels at so many different platforms. It is a fight for the livelihood of the people. So. they don't really have any choice. I feel that after last night I documented around 227 deaths in total. So, after so many people have died, even then if people are not ready to go back, we need to reconsider as to why? What is so important that even after losing so many lives, they're not ready to budge.

Dilpreet  02:22

Even though women don't typically enjoy the same rights as men in agriculture, they have played a crucial part in these protests. Please speak to us about women's role as frontliners in a rally that has taken up an international shape.

Anu  02:37

See, I cannot think of one place where women have not contributed towards the struggle, be it taking care of the household and land, in fact, tilling of the land and sowing of the seeds back in the farms when the male members of the families were protesting out here on the streets, even being at the protest site where, you know, student activists like Kanupriya, who was being also the first activist you know, who's also the first woman president of Punjab University, the way she attracted youth and also other women to the protest site, making them feel safe, making telling them showing them that it's safe to be here. And it is also necessary for them to be there. Other than that people like women journalists, like Asis Kaur, who's been at the protest site since day one and has been reporting from ground zero every day about the state sponsored brutality or about the other events that happen at the site of the protest, risking their lives as we've already seen how independent journalists are being attacked every day. So she works with KTV. And then comes the farm leaders, the ones who have already been associated in the politics of the movement such as Jasbir Kaur Natt who is the member who's the member of the State Committee of Punjab Kisan Union. She's also the member is National Executive of AIPWA. And she is in charge of the Tikri Morcha main stage. She's been associated with the movement, with the unions, for almost 30 years now. And since 1986, and another leader from Punjab is Harinder Kaur Bindu, who is the leader... farm leader, women farm leader Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta Ugrahan. And she's also been associated with the movement for a long time. In fact, she has she's the one who mobilized women towards this protest, not only in Delhi, but also back in Punjab, when women when farmers were sitting on the rails and had started the 'Rail Roko Andolan'. So, women had participated in so many ways barring these there is are there other ones like Medha Patkar who brought the tribal farmers from, you know, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and walked with them till Delhi borders. Then one particular person that I want to speak about is Sitabai Tadvi. She passed away sitting in the protest on 27, January 2021, she's noted at number 172 on my list, she was herself a tribal belong, she herself belonged to a tribal community or rather, I would say Indigenous community. And she had been the Indigenous right human rights activist. She has been an environmental activist, and she's also been a farmer. She'd participated in, you know, protests, for tribal rights for farming rights were all throughout her, you know, period of activism. She was associated with Maharashtra Lok Sangharsh Morcha for 25 years, and she participated in various movements of human rights, social environmental cause throughout her life, she'd been jailed for her social activism too earlier. She, on 22nd December, she marched against Ambani in Mumbai. And she had been leading the farmers protests at Shahjahanpur border and 16th of January 2021, until she passed away on 27th of January 2021. Along with that, there are certain social activists also like @iamjassisangha who, who had @iamjassisangha is her you know, Instagram handle. So Jassi Sangha has been sitting at the protests from day one and created interactive creative spaces such as Saanjhi Sath. She's also one of the founding members of Trolley Times, so women, and their participation in the protests had been immense, which culminated in the Mahila Kisan Divas that took place on January 18, against the remarks of CJI Bobde who said that women and children should go back, you know, in order to emphasize that women have equal role equal rights in being in that process, because they are also going to be affected by these laws. In fact, according to a report by Oxfam in 18 2018, agricultural sector employs 80% of all economically active women in India 33% of search, participate as agricultural labor, whereas 48% of them are self employed farmers. And yet they are shown to be invisible, yet they are reduced to their sexuality, yet they're reduced to their gender. So, this movement is also emerging to make such workforce visible. And not just that, you can also see instances of gender equality within the movement, where, you know, women are not reduced to traditional activities, which even Harinder Bindu in one of her interviews to magazine, a newspaper called Quint and said that we have deliberately managed the protest in a way that we have not limited women to the jobs like cooking or cleaning, like we've already mentioned, how, you know, Jasbir Kaur Natt manages stage. And women have been doing other activities beyond just cooking and cleaning. And we can see even men doing these activities along with other activities. So, the protest seems like a gender neutral space, at least for this particular time.

Dilpreet  08:12

Hmm, thank you so much for that, Anu. And when we were speaking earlier, you said something about the effect of these laws on the Punjabi culture and our traditional food even. Please tell us more on that.

Anu  08:25

Yeah, I feel that everything in Punjab is connected to the cyclical process of agriculture, all our major festivals, be it Baisakhi, be it Lohri, our center, even Teeyan, those are centered around various times in the agricultural seasonal cycle. So we are going to lose onto that culture because if you are not personally or individually related to the activity, you will not perform such activities, you will not celebrate it as festival. Secondly, the traditional foods like Saag, and if you come from the northwestern part of the Punjab, you would come across this word called Chibbar. Okay, it's a small, indigenous fruit or vegetable, it's a mixture of both which, which is basically made into a pickle or into a chutney, these kind of things are only grown say and and are known to people who traditionally belong to that land, you hardly find them in mandis or markets also, you usually get it from your friends in the village, or from the relatives in the village who just give it away. There is no such thing as in buying such things. In fact, even the Sarson Saag or the mustard, the leaves that that are traditionally consumed as a traditional Punjabi dish, all these things are usually grown on the side. as a byproduct, it's not really something that people grow for, you know, extensive farming. So these kind of foods will also in a way vanish the same way like that tradition of eating millet had vanished. Otherwise, Bajra, the millet was one of the staple food of this land. In fact, people eat it on the very first day of Maghi You know, so say on the day of Maghi people traditionally eat a Khichdi made of the millets. And it is actually there is a tagline that says, "Poh Rijji, Magh Khaadi” in a way that it was put on fire on the night of the "Poh", which is traditional season in Punjab. It's a traditional division of time, in Punjab, okay, in Punjabi. And then again, it says "Poh Rijji" that means it was cooked in the "Poh", and, and consumed on the day of the Maghi. And so there are such traditions which are going to be totally lost upon. In fact, even the the occupation of animal husbandry is going to be affected, because people will lose the right to their lands. And then once they enter into a contract, and the feed on which their, you know, animals on which there are domesticated animals depend upon that will also be taken away. So the entire system of dairy, farming, even poultry, all these things are going to be affected by this law.

Dilpreet  11:01

And Anu, what is the future of these protests? How long do you think this will continue? And what does the government need to do now that the farmers are absolutely not backing out?

Anu  11:12

I feel if the government is actually ready for a dialogue and a talk, which it has been indicating through various other means, like accepting the demand for amends and also proposing that they can stay the law for another two to three years. I think it's it's high time that the government should consider the demand which is now not just limited to the states of Haryana, Punjab and we can see how it is simmering into other states as well. In fact, the every day Maha Panchayat is taking place in the state of UP and it has reached beyond North India now, anyway, it was beyond North India, but it wasn't as visible now it is visible now it is it is as visible as nobody, even the Godi Media (slang for right wing media in India) cannot turn a blind eye to it. The amount of participation that is coming from Maharashtra the amount of participation that is coming from up or other states, so that the government here needs to rethink on their decision. And consider the farmers in the end propose a new law in which the considerations and suggestions from farmers should also be taken in and should discard this law. Also, the reason for discarding of this law is not just because of this deadlock between the farmers and the union. But the another question of constitutionality of the law itself, if this law is passed, and obviously it is passed, but if it is allowed to continue, in practice, it is going to set a precedent where the government can interfere in the agriculture sector of the state policies or the state government. And that is another issue that the people are trying to fight against. Beyond the mere idea of MSP or the laws, it's the it's about setting a precedent in law.

Dilpreet  12:58

Lastly Anu, what can people outside of India do to help the movement,

Anu  13:04

I feel they can create awareness. I remember going to Tikri border once and there I met few people and I asked them, What kind of help would they need? Do they need anything, they can let me know because I wanted to donate. And they just told us that we have everything, our unions told us to pack everything for next two to three months. And we have everything, we don't need anything. But please take our message. Tell people that we are here, we are suffering here and we need their help. And I think that is one thing that people outside India can do. Besides obviously helping them with necessities, but always looking for credible sources for donations and fundings. That is one thing that I would also like to point out that sometimes people over-donate things, which again, is going to be the waste of the funds. So yes, that's that's one thing you can do is amplify the message as much as you can, talk about it as much as you can, create a dialogue as much as you can. That is the best in which that is the best way in which you can help them because there's an entire army of media projected against them, that is projected against creating a negative image of the protest.

Dilpreet  14:19

Thank you so much for joining me, Anu, you gave us some incredible insight, and I'm really thankful for your time today. Thank you so much.

Anu  14:26

You're welcome.

Dilpreet  14:29

To stay tuned with all our upcoming episodes, subscribe to our Spotify and Apple podcast or visit us on

About the author

Dilpreet is the founder of South Asian Today. More about her can be found here.