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Foot massage, tattoos and dentists for challenging Indian farmers

Foot massage, tattoos and dentists for challenging Indian farmers With foot massage machines, dental surgery, your own newspaper and even a tattoo parlor, it is clear that the thousands of Indian farmers blocking Delhi's roads for nearly a month are going nowhere.

Farmers marched to the capital in late November to protest new agricultural laws that they fear will destroy their livelihoods, but the police, who fired tear gas and water cannons, stopped them in their tracks.

So now, numbering in the tens of thousands, they are digging at various entry points into the city, braving the bitter cold of the night with tents, blankets and campfires, as well as hot samosas and sweet chai.

With music blasting from the large speakers fitted to the tractors, the largest site of its kind at the Singhu border crossing north of Delhi now looks like a lively and highly organized festival.

Sunny Ahluwalia, a dentist, drove her van equipped with two dental chairs and an X-ray machine, all powered by a generator, from her home 250 kilometers away to help.

"We may have become doctors, but we are the children of farmers," Ahluwalia told AFP after scraping the yellowish teeth of a farmer, one of 100 patients he treats for free a day.

"It is very unfortunate that our government is not ready to accept the demands of the farmers. How can the laws be good if they don't like them?"

- Tired feet -

The main camp goes back almost a kilometer (half a mile). Tractor trailers are full of bedding, while tents are set up around makeshift stalls offering everything from toothpaste to free medicine.

The makeshift settlement is abuzz with activity throughout the day, as farmers, mostly without covid masks, walk in and out of the bustling area, chatting and getting free food from community kitchens.

In one tent, volunteers have set up two neat rows of about 20 foot massage machines to put a fresh spring in the path of the many gray-bearded and multi-colored turban farmers.

"Since many of the protesters are elderly farmers, they used to ask us for massages due to pain in (their) knees and feet," volunteer Bhupinder Singh told AFP.

"We felt we could serve more people and do better by buying these cheap machines."

"I told them how good it feels and that they are doing a very good job," said satisfied customer Harbans Singh.

- Spotless and clean -

Foot massage, tattoos and dentists for challenging Indian farmers

A team of 50 volunteers with brooms and dustpan has divided into two teams to keep the bustling place clean.

"While everything else is in good supply, we feel that we could clean it better as we could be here for a long time," Sukhwinder Singh told AFP.

The government has said that the new laws will mean that farmers will not only have to sell their produce to state agencies that guarantee a minimum price.

But the protesters, who are mostly from northern states, fear that if the minimum price is taken away, the big corporations will squeeze them.

To spread its message in India and abroad, there have been solidarity demonstrations in Canada and Britain, a common social media platform is run by a 36-member IT cell.

The farmers have also reportedly created their own free weekly newspaper to be distributed at the protest site.

Any farmer who wants to make a lasting impression can also get tattoos featuring protest slogans, ox-drawn plows, or ferocious lions.

"This is our way of supporting farmers. We have designs related to Punjabi culture," Chetan Sood, one of the tattoo artists, told the Times of India.

When night falls and the temperature drops, many of the protesters end their long days inside tractor cars with six or eight other men sleeping on cotton sheets.

"We dim the lights and sleep comfortably. Young children sleep outside (outdoors) with blankets," farmer Kashmir Singh told AFP.

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