Singing, dancing and cheering atop their tractor-trolleys, farmers on Saturday began their journey home from Delhi borders after dismantling their tents and other structures at the end of a year-long sit-in against the agri laws and were accorded a rousing welcome with sweets and garlands in the neighbouring states.
Emotions ran high as the farmers performed 'ardas' (prayers) and 'havans' to thank the almighty and set off towards Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in convoys of tractors, bedecked with colourful flowers and lights and blaring songs of victory.
By 4 PM, less than a quarter of the protesters were left at the Singhu border. Similarly, at the Ghazipur border, the process of dismantling shelters was in full swing, but the protesting farmers said the site will be completely vacated by December 15.
Their furrowed faces now lit with smiles, the protesters said they can finally unite with their families
"My children are very excited. We will finally get to meet each other after a year... I am very very happy. Over the phone they would always say ''Papa, ghar kab aaoge?'' (Papa, when will you come home?)," 40-year-old Bhupender Singh said
"But the fact that I am heading home after victory is something I am particularly proud about," said Singh, while on his way back to his home in Uttar Pradesh's Bijnor district on a tractor-trolley with other villagers who were on a sit-in at Ghazipur border.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal took to Twitter to praise the farmers for their effort.
"There is no substitute for patience, courage and unity. Only by mutual brotherhood and unity, the country can move forward. This unity of farmer brothers was their biggest strength. My salute to the strong will and vitality of the farmer brothers who are returning home from today with a historic victory," he said.
Many locals including shopkeepers who suffered due to the blocking of roads were also feeling a sense of relief.
Small-time scrap dealers at Singhu border had a field day with a huge quantity of bamboo poles, tarpaulin sheets, plastic and wood pieces, left behind at the protest site.
However, for many poor kids and slum dwellers, who ate food at langars (community kitchens) set up by protesting farmers at the Haryana side of Singhu Border, it was a sad farewell.
"We used to have our breakfast, lunch and dinner at langars here. This is our last breakfast today at the langar. Now we have to either cook on our own or look for other options," Aryan, 13, resident of slums in Kundli said.
Because of the large convoy of tractor trolleys and other vehicles, traffic jams could be witnessed at many places on Delhi-Haryana national highway and other roads.
Two farmers from Punjab’s Muktsar district were killed when the tractor-trailer was hit by a truck in Haryana’s Hisar while they were returning home from a protest site near the Delhi’s Tikri border.
Police said one farmer was seriously injured in the accident at Hisar's Dhandoor village.
People gathered at many places on the Delhi-Karnal-Ambala and Delhi-Hisar national highways as well as other routes, welcoming and honouring the farmers with garlands and sweets.
Youths and women performed Punjab's folk dance 'bhangra' to the beats of 'dhol'. At Khanauri near Punjab, villagers burst firecrackers amid a celebratory mood.
Preparations to welcome farmers have been made at different toll plazas and other places along the national highways.
The headquarters of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) that was the nerve centre of the agitation was deserted on Saturday.
The SKM, an umbrella body of 40 farm unions, was born out of the anti-farm law protests with prominent farmer bodies of Punjab, Haryana and UP joining it.
On November 29, a bill was passed in Parliament to repeal the laws, one of the main demands of the farmers.
However, the farmers refused to end their protest, demanding that the government fulfil the other demands that included legal guarantee on MSP and withdrawal of police cases against them, forcing the Centre to a give written assurance.
As the Centre accepted the pending demands, the SKM, at its last meeting at its headquarters, decided to suspend the farmers' movement and announced that farmers will go back home on December 11 from the protest sites on highways at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur after taking out 'Victory March'.
"Singhu border had become our home for the last one year. This movement united us (farmers) all as we fought together against the black farm laws irrespective of caste, creed and religion.
"This is a historic moment and the victorious result of the movement is even bigger," said Kuljeet Singh Aulakh, a farmer from Moga in Punjab, as he embraced his fellow farmers before starting his journey back home.
Jitender Chaudhary, a farmer at Ghazipur border, was busy preparing his tractor-trolley to go back home in Muzaffarnagar of western Uttar Pradesh.
"We are fortunate that we participated in a historic movement against the three farm laws imposed on us by the central government. We have made new friends and gained a different experience here during the agitation," Chaudhary said.
Tractors sporting the national flag and the flags of farmer bodies were playing Punjabi songs of victory while frequent chants of 'Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal' rent the air.
The vehicles were loaded with cots, mattresses, utensils and other belongings that the farmers had carried with them during the agitation.
Farmer leaders said that they will again meet on January 15 to see if the government has fulfilled their demands.
Parliament passed a bill on November 29 to repeal the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and the Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 that were enacted in September last year.