Thousands of California residents, mainly of Sikh descent, in thousands of vehicles drove towards the California State Capitol in Sacramento on Saturday, December 19, in solidarity with farmers in India who have been protesting against three new agricultural laws enacted by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Hosted by the California Sikh Youth Alliance (CSYA), the demonstration had over 3,000 vehicles — trucks, tractors, cars, bikes, vans — carrying 9,000 people (see photograph by Harsimar Kaur above).
Many carried placards with slogans such as ‘Support Farmers’, ‘Inqilab Zindabad’ [Long live the revolution] and even “We hate Modi more than malai [cream] in our chai”.
The demonstration sparked a traffic snarl. Police had to shut down two or three exits and prevented the majority of the cars from getting into the capitol area.
A similar rally was held on December 5 when 10,000 people drove to the Indian consulate in San Francisco in their vehicles.
“We did notify local authorities and had the go-ahead to do the whole event,” CSYA co-founder Ajaypal Singh told indica News.
The CSYA also had members stay back to clean both the parking lots that were used.
“We did not want any complaints in any way. The goal is to raise awareness for those fighting for their livelihood, not garner any negative attention,” Ajaypal said.
He said that if the Indian government repeatedly oppresses minorities and puts their livelihoods at stake, they should fully expect demands for a separate homeland.
If the government is not willing to treat minorities as equals, then absolutely the people will demand their own homeland, he reiterated.
“The idea is to apply pressure to Modi to repeal these bills. They are detrimental to farmers; this is the largest peaceful protest in the world and Indian media is not covering it. Although we live here in the states, many of us have family living back home,” he said.
“It pains us to see our farmers livelihood at stake. Farmer suicides have always been a problem and they are only increasing. Farming is the backbone of Punjab. We want to raise awareness among government officials in America as well, so that we can apply pressure to the Indian government.”
Hundreds of thousands of farmers have marched from Punjab to Delhi, peacefully, through barricades, water cannons, tear gas and other obstacles and yet the government and the Indian media are labeling them as terrorists while these farmers are also cleaning the streets of Delhi, and feeding the same police officers that are beating them, he underlined.
“We urge Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who is of Indian origin, to speak out about this,” Ajaypal said.
“These protests have been going on throughout the country [the US] as well. It is time for these protests to at least be acknowledged. There is no way that these politicians are not aware of these protests.”
Kunarveer Singh, another co-founder of the CSYA, told indica News that many othe organizations helped organize Saturday’s car rally.
“The message is very simple,” he said.
“India has, time after time, created policies and oppressive laws that marginalize the minority population. Their newest edition to this came in the shape of three farm laws which led to massive uproar from the farming population within India. It is time that America and other democratic nations understand the oppressive nature of India. This rally and others like it across the nation where done to provide moral support to our farmers while shedding light to their situation to the western media,” Kunarveer said.
“We will continue to do such rallies and other events until the farmers continue their struggle.”
Amar Shergill, California Democratic Party executive board member, and a few elected US officials have called on the Indian government agencies to ensure that protesters are permitted to exercise their civil rights without harassment for as long as they may choose to do so.
On the December 19 demonstration, Shergill told indica News that it was “simply amazing organizing work by a new generation of grassroots activists with support from gurdwaras and community organizations. It’s a new day for activism in the South Asian community.”
“Since the United States send billions of dollars to India every year in exchange for agricultural products, we must ensure that our funds do not support a system that destroys farming communities and impoverishes farmers,” Shergill said.
Asked about allegations that these protesters are supporters of Khalistan, a separate homeland for Sikhs, Shergill said: “Modi and the BJP are desperate to deflect from their epic mistakes that are now worldwide news. It doesn’t matter what they try to say about farmers and their supporters because the people know the truth.”
Harminderpal Singh, one of the directors at the Fremont Gurdwara, who participated in the December 19 demonstration, called the new farm laws “suicidal.”
“The laws might be good [on paper] but there is corruption and here they are taking away the right to sue corporates and MSP [minimum support price]. It will kill our farmers,” Harminderpal told indica News.
“The Indian government was to copy the US government, wants to copy Europe, but India’s biggest issue is corruption,” he said.
“I am concerned about my family over there,” said Harminderpal, who said his extended family are into farming and at present are in Delhi protesting against the new laws.
“Small farmers can never compete with the market,” he said.
Tejinder Gill, who participated in a similar solidarity rally in New Jersey, said the event there was hosted by the local gurdwara and some people of the Bharatiya Kisan Union.
“We feel so connected to farmers,” Gill told indica News. “We are emotionally connected to our land.”
She, like many others, pointed out that most Indian farmers have 1 to 5 acres of land and that they will be decimated with the new laws that aim at corporatization of agriculture.