Hundreds of people participated in a march in Washington, DC held on March 20 to show solidarity with the ongoing farmers’ protest in India.
Most participants at the March on Washington For Human Rights were Sikh, with roots in Punjab. Many flew from California, some drove from New York. And there was at least one person who said he had given up his job on Canada to raise awareness in America about the Indian farmers’ protest.
The rally participants held placards with slogans in favor of the farmers’ protest in India, on for more than four months now demanding the repeal of three new farm-sector laws enacted by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Slogans on placards included “Farmers are still protesting/We cannot stay quiet”, “They need our voices now more than ever”, “Human rights violated by Modi government in India”, “We support Indian farmers”, “NRIs for farmers” and “No Farmers No Food No Future.”
California based Raj Sodhi-Layne, ran a 30-second ad in Fresno, California about the ongoing farmers’ agitation before the Sunday Super Bowl game on February 7, also traveled to Washington, DC to be part of the march.
“It’s been crazy,” Raj told indica News. “When you know people are supporting you from all over, it’s every emotional to learn that.”
She said she was touched to see the breadth of the support, from children to septuagenarians.
“It was a moving experience and something never experienced in my life. I am not used to all this, I am a retired banker!” Raj said.
The farmers’ movement in India is still on with thousands of farmers camping on the borders of India’s national capital, refusing to budge till the government heeds their demand.
Sodhi said the farmers would not give up and that from all indications they were prepared to continue their agitation for as long as needed.
“So, I am going to focus on elected officials in California like other states are doing. I think we need to figure what we are going to do next,” she said.
She pointed out that a number of protesting farmers have died, some of extreme cold, some of exhaustion and other causes, and some even by suicide.
“I want to bring more international issue and focus on the deaths of the small farmers, we want to prevent more farmers from committing suicide so they don’t leave their children as orphans.”
Japneet Singh, who represented the New York Sikh Council, co-host of the march, told indica News that this was the 13th rally they have hosted in solidarity with an ongoing farmers’ protest.
“The reason why we protested in front of the White House is that Meena Harris [Vice President Kamala Harris’s niece] is very vocal about the farmers and that means Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden they all know what is going on in India. We will hold more rallies until the issue gets resolved,” Japneet told indica News.
Harbir Bhatia, another California resident who attended the march in Washington, DC told indica News that she went to speak up for democracy and highlight the farmers’ peaceful and democratic protest.
“America is the beacon of democracy. It’s her responsibility to speak up against the significant decline in democracy [in India], violent response to the largest peaceful protest in history, and human rights violations,” Harbir said.
“In addition, sharing the lessons, impacts, and suffering from the similar policies in the past on America’s family farms. I request to President Biden and Vice President Harris, please take action and live up to principles of democracy. As it’s said, we will reap what we sow.”
There have been attempts from the Indian government and largely pro-government media to paint the protesters as Khalistanis, or Sikhs who want a separate country for their religionists. Others allege this vilification is part of a pattern of stifling dissent by the Narendra Modi government.
“This protest is not about Khalistan but about farmers,” said Karanbir Singh Sekhon, a computer engineer who said he quit his job at KPMG in Canada and has been living in Washington, DC since February 20 to create awareness about why farmers from Punjab are protesting.
“This is a kisan andolan [farmers’ revolution], focused on farming and not against the Modi government,” Karanbir told indica News.
“This fight is against the farm laws. It is not a political or religious or communist issue; it’s a human rights issue. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide in India. Why? because there is a vicious circle,” he said.
According to publicly available figures of India’s National Crime Records Bureau, nearly 300,000 farmers have died by suicide in the past 20 years in that country.
The Indian government says the new laws are meant to help farmers get more income through participation of the corporate sector in farming. The protesting farmers allege the laws are designed for a corporate takeover of the farm sector in India and that small farmers – most Indian farmers – will be the worst hit.