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As one of seven founder members of India’s newest and most talked-about newspaper, 29-year-old Navkiran Natt’s stories easily compete with those from seasoned journalists.
Like the one about the time she sat with a group of men aged 20–70, writing slogans as they made rotis at Tikri on the border of Delhi and Haryana. When she began feeling hungry they served her some food. “Didi, when I came the first day, I didn't know how to knead dough,” one of them told her. “Now I’m working on perfecting round rotis.” Another man joked: “The day you make perfectly round rotis, Modi will agree to our demands.” He was referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to budge on the farmers’ demand to repeal three contentious new laws.
A third man recollected how he would often wake up his wife late at night and demand she cook dinner for the people he had brought home. “Back then I never thought it was difficult to whip up a meal for five,” he told Navkiran, who says she savoured this moment of men realising the value of domestic labour. As she got up to leave, an old man who had served her said, “Revolution has already come for you.” She raised her eyebrow and he explained. “Women used to feed us, now we are feeding you.”
You’ll find this and many more stories in the latest edition of Trolley Times, a four-page biweekly newspaper created in the midst of what has been called one of the world’s biggest protests. Its first edition, released on Dec. 18, 23 days into the protest, had a print run of 2,000 copies. This week the team printed 5,000 copies of the second issue. They also translated the first edition into English. Its name is derived from the trolley—essentially the trailer of the ubiquitous tractor—that farmers have repurposed as their mobile homes for the duration of the protest.
Navkiran, a dentist who later got her masters in film studies from Ambedkar University in Delhi, has been at the protest with her family since it started. Parents Sukhdarshan Singh Natt and Jasbir Kaur Natt are both state committee members of the Punjab Kisan Union. Physiotherapist brother Ajay Pal Natt and Navkiran work to highlight the views of younger protestors. Sometimes, revolution is a family passion.
The siblings, along with five friends—a film writer, a video director, two documentary photo artists, and a farmer—conceptualised Trolley Times as a bilingual paper written in Gurmukhi and Hindi. A famous line by freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, which translates to, “the sword of revolution is sharpened on the whetting stone of ideas” is just below the masthead.
The birth of Trolley Times is an important marker of citizens’ lack of trust in powerful media outlets that have ignored or distorted protests. This mistrust has been distilled into a now oft-heard sentiment amongst dissenters across India: “Godi media go back”.
Trolley Times, meant to counter fake news and an excessively pro-government media narrative—‘reporting from the protest and for the protest’—is the 2020 version of pamphleteering. It’s a model that is likely to be repeated in a country where dissenting views now struggle to be heard.
“We all belong to farmers. Our forefathers worked really hard to get us that education, there’s no use of that education if we don’t use it to help them,” says Ajay Pal, addressing criticism that the protestors were affluent, “pizza-eating” farmers.
Trolley Times is also an effective way to communicate within the protest that stretches across 25-30 km and touches half a dozen borders, adds Ajay Pal. So page one carries news and strategy updates, page two and three have quirky and inspiring stories from protestors, page four is dedicated to art, poetry, and photo essays. The latest issue also devotes space to the 40-plus deaths that have occurred here since the protest began.
When the creators of Trolley Times called for email submissions in the first issue, they weren’t expecting anything major. They received 1,200 emails on the first day. “It’s impossible for us to go through all the emails, the connectivity is bad here, but it will be an important archive of protest literature that we can organise in the long run,” says Ajay Pal.
Like his sister, he’s brimming with stories which he lists hurriedly. Of women, some of them sole survivors in their families, who are present at the protest; langars that are open 24/7 (“nobody can go hungry here”); young people who have come from New Zealand and Australia to stand with their parents; the US-based cardiologist who has set up a medical camp; and the small farmer from Jind in Haryana who donated all the carrots and radish he grows on his two acres—his only source of income. Now he’s trying to convince his neighbours to do the same.
Navkiran, though, has the eye and pacing of a master storyteller. At Singhu, on the Delhi-Punjab border, she encountered Mohammad Irshad, a hairdresser from Punjab, on whose trolley was pasted a handwritten notice: Free massage for senior citizens participating in the farm protest. When Navkiran inquired why a hairdresser had turned masseuse, Irshad replied: “There are mostly Sikh people here, they won’t cut their hair. But the farmers are fighting for us too and I want to do my bit for them so I’m offering them a massage.”
As she narrates this tale, she is interrupted by a senior citizen seeking to borrow a book from the makeshift Bhagat Singh library near Pandit Shree Ram Sharma Metro Station in Tikri. Except that he doesn’t want to return the book. He replies that he has come from far down the protest line and won’t be able to make it back to the library. “Don’t worry,” she tells him. “Take it and read it. When you’re done, pass it along.”
Afterwards she laughs and tells me, “I had to give it to him. It was Shamsul Islam’s RSS Ko Pehchaney.” It makes perfect sense. Everyone needs to be educated about the RSS.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.