The Indian government must protect the rights of farmers and the Narendra Modi government’s new laws for the agriculture sector will lead to economic ruin — thousands of protesters made this message ring out loud in San Francisco on Saturday, December 5.
India’s farmers are agitating over three new laws passed that the Modi government says will free India’s farmers from the shackles of middlemen.
The farmers say the laws are designed for a corporate takeover of agriculture by stripping farmers of government support.
Hundreds of thousands of them have virtually laid siege to the capital, Delhi, demanding immediate withdrawal of the laws.
Multiple rounds of talks between the government and farmers have failed, an a nationwide shutdown has been called by the farmers on December 8.
More than 2,000 vehicles — cars, motorcycles, semi-trucks and even tractors — were part of the “California Kisaan Solidarity” motorcade rally hosted in collaboration by various Sikh organizations that not only gained mainstream media attention but also created a traffic gridlock.
At 5:30pm on December 5, San Francisco officials sent out an alert: “A Civic Demonstration was affecting traffic flows on I-80 Westbound Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Traffic impacts are RESOLVING. Expect residual delays and use alternate routes.”
Amar Singh Shergill, California Democratic Party executive board member, said that the protest was needed and justified.
“The Indian government must protect the civil rights of the farmers and their allies, including freedom of movement, speech, and protest,” Shergill told indica News.
“The Indian government loses all legitimacy if it is using violence against peaceful protestors; those are the tools of colonial powers, dictators, and fascists,” he said.
Jaspreet Kaur, member of the Jakara Movement who participated in and also helped organize the protest, said it was the largest protest in Sikh-American and Indian-American history.
The Jakara Movement is a California-based grassroots organization that seeks to strengthen community engagement and build empowerment by focusing on issues of civic engagement, education, health, and social justice.
“I am a daughter of a farmer,” Jaspreet told indica News. “All my uncles, from both sides of the family, are farmers. I grew up going to Punjab every year and so it’s very close to my heart and I have seen firsthand how hard they [farmers] work to feed their families and the rest of the nation. That is why it’s very personal to me,” she said.
“They are not going to back down,” Jaspreet said, referring to the Indian farmers who have congregated in Delhi to protest.
“So, the least we can do in a foreign country is to make noise to show them that we are supporting you and we are with you. I am sure folks in India, they are watching and we want to let them know we are watching them too.”
She said the farmers were scared.
“People say in India is a democratic country but doesn’t look like it,” she said.
There have been multiple reports of protesting farmers being fired at with water cannons in the biting North Indian cold and tear-gas shells.
“We denounce the violation of human rights,”Jaspreet said. “The government has said this [the new laws] is for the betterment of farmers and would change their lives. But the question is how many farmers’ input the government has taken. The government should ask the farmers what they need and help them empower and create the change.
“An outsider cannot decide and pass the laws. Farmers are saying they cannot benefit from this,” said Jaspreet.
“You cannot go to the community telling them what they need. And as a leader, it is the [leader’s] responsibility to listen to the people, the farmers — people who have elected leaders so that they could listen to them. It’s just frustrating laws are being passed without any input.”
She said it was “ a systematic oppression,” said Kaur. “It hits when something is close to your heart.”
The Bay Area protest was echoed with similar recent protests in New York, Houston, Michigan, Chicago, and Washington, DC.
“Without farmers, there is no food,” said Naindeep Singh, executive director of the Jakara Movement, said in a statement. “Without farming, there is no livelihood for the millions of people in Punjab who have relied on farming as a source of income for generations. These issues are deeply intertwined, and we will raise our voices to ensure that the families from Punjab who are putting their lives on the line to protest in Delhi can do so without facing threats from the Indian government.”
“Sikh Americans have been an active part of California’s economy and culture for more than 125 years, and many of the 500,000 Sikhs who reside in the United States can trace their immediate families back to one state in India: Punjab,” Singh added.
“Now, the future of Punjab as an agricultural powerhouse and the livelihood of its people remains under dire threat as long as the Indian government remains focused on the passing of these three farming laws.”