Delhi has been seeing weeks of farmer protests in response to the government’s new unjust agricultural bills, all three of which farmers want repealed for being pro-corporate and anti-farmer. Thousands have gathered in Delhi and have taken to the streets; and Tokra of Books has taken it upon itself to keep the protesters motivated and their perseverance intact. A library that fits entirely into a tokra, Tokra of Books at Delhi’s northern Singhu border may be small, but it is making a big impact.
Set-up by young people from Moga district of Punjab who work with the All India Youth Federation (AIYF), the library is for the benefit of all protesting farmers and is free of cost.
Tokra of Books wasn’t a planned initiative; it was an instinctive response against the narrative the Bharatiya Janta Party was trying to peddle by claiming that the farmers are being misled and are naive. Vicky Mahesari, one of the young men behind Tokra of Books said,
“We didn’t plan this. When we reached Delhi, we were met with tear gas and lathi charges. Adding to that was the BJP’s narrative that we are being misled and the protests are unreasonable, so in response to all this, we set up Tokra of Books. We used the few books we had on us. We wanted to send the message that our protest matters and that protests like this one where ordinary folks stand up and speak truth to power are our legacy. It is the legacy left behind by Bhagat Singh, by Kartar Singh Sarabha, Gurunanak Dev ji, and so many other reformers, including Guru Gobind Singh ji. They steadfastly refused to bow down to power and so will we. This is the reason we set up this library.“
Tokra of Books seeks to send the message that the challenges the agricultural sector faces matter and that they must be addressed. “Movements are won when we have people’s participation and a principle guiding us, and we are certain we have both,” added Mr. Mahesari.
The library was set up on the second day of the protests. Internally, among the protesters, there were questions on how to carry the movement forward. And that’s how Tokra of Books emerged, to remind them of the stories that preceded them, of reforms and hard-won victories.
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As for why they made the unusual choice of using a tokra, it is simpler than you think. Vicky Mahesari said, “We had no time to set up. All we had lying around was a tokra, so we decided to use it. We started with only about eight books, but it started to gain traction quickly.“
When they first set up the library, they assumed that the only people interested would be students and other young people, but older protesting farmers and people of all ages and backgrounds started to visit Tokra of Books. Even those who can’t read came to the stall and asked the people behind the library or other readers to explain to them what the books were about.
Books about the history of Punjab, about the freedom struggle, about reform movements and revolutions, books by Russian writers Maxim Gorky and Boris Polevoy, and several other books are a part of the tokra. They started with a mere eight books, but the library is growing. Protesters can pick a book of their choice and read it right by the tokra. While they aren’t allowed to leave with the books, they are welcome to come back the next day to finish reading.
Speaking of one of their readers, Mr Mahesari said, “An old farmer was reading a book about Sikh history written in Punjabi. The book was quite lengthy, so he couldn’t finish it all at once. And given our rule about not leaving with the books, he kept coming back to read it. He kept coming back for three days, till he finished reading the book, and he sometimes read in the light from a stationed truck or a torch.“
Veerpal Kaur, a student who also helped set up the stall said that they intend to have the stall up until the end of the protests, whenever that may be, and are trying to add more books to the already growing collection.
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Tokra of Books is a small, but significant initiative that supports the protests and the reforms it seeks in the most unexpected of ways. It is a reminder to the protesting farmers about the legacies left behind by brave men and women who weren’t deterred, who didn’t let their voices be drowned out, and who, always, even in the face of unchecked power, took charge.
Tokra of Books is doing its part to help with Dilli Chalo.
All pictures have been taken from the Twitter account of Neel Kamal.