How a Young Man Who Switched Off a Police Water Cannon Has Become an Icon of the Farmers’ Protest

Social Commentary

How a Young Man Who Switched Off a Police Water Cannon Has Become an Icon of the Farmers’ Protest

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

India’s farmers have been agitating against the central government’s farm reform bills for weeks already, and the thousands-strong protest resulted in a march of farmers from Punjab and Haryana heading toward the nation’s capital, Delhi. The farmers’ protest has faced heavy police deployment to stop its progress. Yet, despite the approaching winter cold and the police’s heavy-handed use of water cannons and tear gas shells, the farmers have continued to press onward. Yesterday, in an image that has become emblematic of the resilience of the spirit of resistance, a young man participating in the farmers’ protest was filmed climbing on to a truck firing a water cannon and switching it off before returning to the throng of protestors.

The protestor, who was identified as Navdeep Singh, hails from Ambala and is the son of a farmer. The graduate degree-holder had joined protestors from over 250 different villages to force the government to acknowledge the farmers’ demands. His act of bravery has become of the most unforgettable images of their ongoing struggle. Speaking to reporters, Singh said, “I was a studious child, never did these kinds of things like climbing and jumping. But the bravery shown by protesters gave me courage.”

The still image of Singh jumping off the roof of the water cannon truck and on to a tractor bed has gone viral. For many social media users who support the farmers’ protest, changing their profile picture to the image of Singh was a way to express solidarity with the never-say-die spirit of the Indian farmers. And the image was also widely shared, as users expressed their admiration for Singh’s courageous display.

As for Singh, he doesn’t harbour any resentment toward the policemen who turned the water cannons on the farmers in the first place. In his interview to reporters at the protest, he said, “Police are only doing their job, they are also sons of farmers.”

As both the protesting farmers and police out to contain them show no signs of backing down, there may soon be more images like that of Navdeep Singh leaping off the water cannon that come to be forever associated with the movement.