Even before the farm Bills were passed in Parliament, Harbhajan Singh quit a cushy bank job to work for the farmers’ cause. Thus, when protesting tillers came knocking on the Capital’s doors, he joined them at Ghazipur border.
For 15 years he was working as an assistant manager in one of India’s top private banks at Sitarganj in Udham Singh Nagar district of Uttarakhand.
“I was responsible for disbursing loans to farmers where I had a profile of about 6,000 farmers and a portfolio of Rs.150 crores,” he said.
Harbhajan himself is from a family of farmers who owns about 40 acres of land.
Harbhajan Singh addressing farmers at Ghazipur
“I've done direct funding for about 2,000 applicants during my stint at the bank. But I later realised the percentage of farmers able to close their loan was just about in double figures!
“In other professions, people earning even Rs.10,000 or Rs.15,000 a month are able to pay off bank loans of Rs.1 lakh in five years. But those in agriculture are unable to return the loan amount,” Harbhajan realised soon.
He felt a pang of guilt. Harbhajan could not stop them from taking the loan, “they needed the money… I couldn’t stop them from availing a loan,” he said, “but I could perhaps help them in earning enough to be able to return it.”
He quit the job in January 2020 and connected with scientists and farm experts on a WhatsApp group that discussed ways to address farming problems.
They exchanged ideas and methods to improve produce and develop marketing skills.
“I used to share what I learnt from the group with farmers. I put it out for them in an easier language or in local dialect so they can follow.”
He explained how the small and marginal farmers can register themselves online and avail of minimum support price (MSP).
Harbhajan approached local cybercafés and trained them so that they could in turn help farmers register on the online official portal.
Lunchtime at the protest site
In about a year he has already helped 3,000 farmers register themselves and avail MSP.
“I try to share with them ideas that can increase their yield and advise them on marketing their produce. I also organised a protest in Sitarganj for farmers demanding their rights.”
The 40-year-old former banker has been with the protestors in Ghazipur since November 26, 2020. Earlier, he took a five-day break to go home.
The second time he took a break was when he got his nephew married on January 25, and two days later was back.
“The big farmers don’t care about a law or three, it is the poor who are affected by the new laws,” he asserted.