With security personnel sealing off the borders and the MHA ordering shutting down of internet services, local residents are the ones suffering
In a bid to stop the protesting farmers from entering the Capital, Delhi Police has sealed the borders for even the local residents. Those who have houses around the Ghazipur border now complain about the long routes they have to take for their daily commutes. Local businesses here say customers are few, and point to their never-ending misery – from demonetisation to then the Covid lockdown and now the farmers’ protest.
Just beside the protest site which runs through the highway for a kilometre are residential colonies, shops and schools.
We met a few property dealers, all sitting inside one shop, leaving theirs unattended knowing fully well that chances of customers showing up are nil.
With most customers coming from Delhi, the barricades and heavy police presence only means long traffic jams, which everyone is avoiding. “Our business just recovered from Covid lockdown and now this has happened. Most of my clients are from Delhi, and they are unable to reach here since the last two months without meeting them, how can we give their flats on rent?” asks Naveen, one of the property dealers here.
Another problem has been the long commute which makes matters worse for Jatin, another property dealer who lives in Vivek Vihar. “For the past three days reaching home takes me more than an hour. My home is only a 15-minute drive from here, but with the borders sealed, I have to go through Brij Vihar.”
On whether he supported the farmers’ protest, or blamed them for his current predicament, Jatin said he just wanted the matter to be resolved as soon as possible, “because locals are suffering”.
We also met Rakesh Sharma, who lives in Mayur Vihar but runs a grocery store here. Just the night before, he says it took him three hours for a journey which would take him about 20 minutes. While the store he has taken on rent is not facing any severe loss with most of his customers being locals, he stresses thinking if a medical emergency arises. “I am a heart patient if I fall sick, and no vehicle can reach me, I will die here.”
“Government says we will find a solution, but when? Farmers are suffering and we are also suffering.” But this doesn’t mean he is not in agreement with the agitation by farmers, calling it an important protest for the farmers. Like the others, however, he believes the onus lies with the government to find a solution which would, in turn, help the locals of the area.
Priyanshu Gupta, who opened a grocery store just four months ago, is unable to be philosophical about the low time for his business. During the lockdown, he says, his small restaurant had to be closed down. “We closed down and I sat at home for 6-7 months. Recently I opened my snack shop and now this.”
“I don’t even go to the stores to restock. I say I don’t need it; everyone is sad…I would go once in a week at least, but now with this situation of the roads I go once in two weeks or wait even longer.” And if that weren’t enough, he says, the lack of internet means paying customers turn away when they are unable to pay using online payments.
The government shut down internet in and around the Ghazipur, Singhu and Tikri borders from January 31 to February 3. The move was seen as a way to stop communications, which were leading to more people joining the protests.
But for people like Priyanshu, it has been their business which is at stake. “We are going through a lot of loss. Firstly, customers are not coming and the type of business we had is no more because of this farmers problem. The Internet is not working for the past four days. Customers order something and then they want to pay via Paytm and it doesn’t work. Everyone is facing loss, not just me, for others here as well.”
We also asked him, as we asked the others who they think was to blame for their plight. While first he pointed towards the farmers, he went on to say he thought both sides were at fault. “It’s the fault of the farmer, the government is doing things their way… The fault I feel is the government’s as well. Farmers do the hard work and then you want to let the people above them make the money?”
We also met residents of the area, women sitting in their balconies who too were unsure on who to blame. Instead they believed the ones who were suffering the most were the locals, “not the farmers, not the politicians, but the common people here”.
One woman said her son would get ready for office and leave home only to return a short while later because the roads are barricaded. “It’s better to just stay home, instead of troubling me as well. I wake to make breakfast for him, what’s the point? Leaving this area is hard so is coming back, even pedestrian ways have been barricaded.”
While protests against the three new farm laws are in the third month, the future of it remains unfathomably long. For locals, it’s a long wait for normalcy and for the farmers another long wait for their demands to be met.
Protestors we met did say that locals had been in harmony with them, with some bringing in teacups, to drinking water bottles. “Food is of no dearth here, but they help with what they can. As for the poor of the area, they don’t want us to leave because we never let them go hungry”.