Sirsa: The presence of self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh still lingers on near his Dera (ashram) in Sirsa. Every time security officials or policemen stop a farmer from entering his own field, he looks towards the Dera and lets out a curse. Especially now, with the time ripe for harvesting cotton and spraying pesticides on other crops.
Residents of Shahpur Begu, Kanganpur, Bajekan, Ali Mohammad, Arniyanwali and Nejia — all villages falling within a five-kilometre radius of Singh’s headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) — are a troubled lot. The villagers, all farmers, have been facing routine checks, restrictions and some even get barred from stepping into their houses or out of the villages without a proper identity card.
The DSS chief was arrested on 25 August after a special CBI court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for raping a female devotee. After the verdict, thousands of DSS followers had resorted to vandalism in Panchkula, with the chaos leaving 32 dead and more than 200 injured. The town of Panchkula was taken over by tens of thousands of DSS followers after their leader was pronounced guilty. Following his arrest and consequent sentencing, the courts have now ordered a seize and search operation at the DSS headquarters in Sirsa. With the lavish ashram spread over 700 acres teeming with security personnel, the life of those living around it has turned upside down.
Villagers informed Firstpost that the Sirsa district administration has ordered them and labourers to evacuate the fields. This move, officials say, is being taken to avoid any law and order issues among villagers and Dera followers. Also, they say that through this way, they can ensure the ashram inmates do not escape under the guise of farm hands.
Sarpanch of Kanganpur village Gurvinder Singh said they have been asked to keep valid identity cards with them at all times. “We are questioned by the officers as to why we want to go our fields, where it is located. In fact, we can’t move in and out of the village without facing these questions and providing them with [our identity] proof,” he said.
These restrictions have been keeping farmers from tending to their cotton crops, currently in the harvesting stage. “Farmers are not able to go and pick cotton from their own fields. If the police officer has even a little suspicion, he might refuse us entry. Cotton worth lakhs on 10,000 hectares of land is going to be ruined if this continues,” Singh rued.
Gurjeet Mann, a progressive farmer from Sirsa, said this is also the period in which crops need to be sprayed with pesticides to avoid the onset of diseases like the white fly. He said it's a lengthy process as pesticides need to be sprayed carefully and judiciously.
“The farmers need to go to their farms many a time and also need farmhands. It’s a matter of life and death for farmers, who have worked tirelessly so that their crop gets picked and sold in market," Mann said.
He stressed that the government should not ignore the interests of farmers and come up with a solution so they don’t face any loss.
Suman Devi, who owns five acres on which she has grown cotton, said that while she was able to harvest cotton before the restrictions were clamped, she has been unable to go to the market and sell it.
“There are mounds of cotton at home and it has been filled to its maximum limit. There is no space at home even to walk due to this. But they won't allow us to get a tempo and transport the cotton,” she said.
Working class taking a hit
Shravan Singh of Begu village said that during the harvesting season, the villages teem with labourers from nearby states but this time, nobody turned up. “Even if we force our way to the fields, we can’t do much. Men and women from neighbouring districts and state would visit but this time, due to law and order problem, no one is willing to come here and risk their lives,” he said.
Saroj Devi, who works with a self-help group in Shahpur Begu village, said the tight security has rendered about 1,200 women who worked as farm labourers jobless. Rajbir Singh, a farmer, said the "curfew" did not let him get his buffalo treated. He said his cow would give 10 litres of milk every day but when she fell ill, he could not take her out for treatment because of the "curfew" and the veterinary expert too refused to come to their village.
Director General of Police BS Sandhu expressed surprise over the restrictions on villagers’ movement. “If something like this is going on, I’d ask the local SP to permit villagers to visit their fields, but they would have to produce their identity card,” he said.
He insisted that all the restriction are for people’s own safety and to avoid any tiff between Dera followers and the local residents.
(Sat Singh is a Rohtak-based freelance writer and Manoj Kumar is a Chandigarh-based freelance writer. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)
Updated Date: Sep 09, 2017 09:07 AM