November 30, 2020
First, let me start with giving you a little background before I get into how you can help. I’ve also included some great links in the article to help you understand the farmers bill and the farmers protest. Some are in English, others are not, but a few of them have English subtitles. Please do check them out!
In September 2020, the BJP government passed a farmers bill unanimously in Rajya Sabha (for ease of reference we’ll call it parliament). The Deputy Chairman (essentially similar to a house speaker) and the BJP government refused to listen to the demands of the opposition parties. The demands were simple — send the farmers bill to a parliamentary committee for further deliberations or adjourn the debate over the bill to the next day. I remember watching the news at that time and listening to the frustration of the opposition MP’s, and specifically thinking how could this be happening? How can the Indian government be pushing an agenda when it was a bill that clearly wouldn’t have otherwise passed in parliament? Immediately after the Deputy Chairman passed the bill, opposition MP’s began protesting Rajya Sabha and the farmers bill, while others were suspended for their behaviour.
As peaceful protests broke out in Punjab, I remember watching a video of a farmer from Bihar explain what had happened to him and the advantages Punjabi farmers had. I remember him explaining that they owned approximately five acres of farming land, but the men in his family were in Punjab working as labourers on farms because they couldn’t make ends meet on their own farm. His family was living with the consequences of a similar legislation in Bihar. So I set out trying to learn more and trying to figure out why the farmers in Punjab were so against a Bill that Modi and the BJP government ecstatically declared a win for farmers across the nation.
And while the Modi government felt that the Bill would empower and enrich the farmers in a “free market”; in reality, we don’t actually know if the farmers will reap any benefits from this legislation. What we do know is that these very farmers will more than likely lose a fair wage. Farmers in the states of Punjab and Haryana were already able to sell privately in many other states. They also had the guarantee of selling their crops through the government mandi system. The mandi system is a marketplace where farmers sell their crops. It guarantees a Minimum Support Price (MSP), which is a fixed price that farmers would get for their crops. With the farmers bill, farmers in Punjab and Haryana are facing the threat of losing the MSP and eventually the mandi system. And then with the mandi system out of the way, corporations are able to set their own rates.
Secondly, the corporations will be given an option to lease farms and can ultimately decide what the farmers should grow on their land. When they live in a supposed democracy, who is the government to tell a farmer what they can or cannot grow?
Finally, we have the issue of the storage facilities. Farmers would be required to store their goods for approximately six months. Prior to the farmers bill, farmers were unable to store goods for this long. The mandi system allowed the farmers to sell their crops as they were ready to be sold. The problem with this aspect of the farmers bill is that they are already debt-ridden and would have to come up with ways to now build a storage facility. Farmers are already committing suicide at alarming rates in India (and probably across the world). If these farmers have to store their goods for six months, farmers are saying they are only going to make approximately 3 rupees. Want that in Canadian dollars? That’s $0.053 Canadian dollars. American dollars? That’s $0.041 U.S. Let that sink in! This is the power of lobbyists and corporations. We live in a world where money has taken precedence over humanity and compassion.
Once the news broke out of the farmers bill, the protests erupted across the nation. But the world didn’t take notice of the injustice. October passed. Most of November passed. Reports of some discussions with the Indian government never materialized an agreement between the Indian government or the farmers unions. Specifically, one of the amendments requested by the farmers union was ensuring that the MSP and mandi system be included in the farmers bill.
On November 26th, 2020, the Punjabi farmers in the tens of thousands took to the streets and made their way to Delhi to protest against the Indian government. Grandparents, parents, children alike travelled by foot, cars, buses, and tractors — demanding justice for their right to a fair wage and to reverse the farmers bill (which has now come into effect). On the way to Delhi, the Punjabi farmers were stopped at one barricade after another at State borders. The first in Haryana where additional police forces were sent to prevent the farmers from entering their state. Cranes were used to put boulders on the roads and traffic had come to a standstill. The police pushed back with water cannons. Mind you it’s winter time in India right now and the police are using water cannons against these peaceful protesters who are marching to Delhi.
In the meantime, Haryana’s own farmers came out to help their brothers and sisters chanting “Delhi Chalo”. Many leaders and protesters were taken into custody. Barricade by barricade, the protesters marched on. They moved cemented barriers, iron barricades and parked large trucks by hand and tractors. Police even resorted to digging the road as a blockade, which would prevent the trucks, tractors, etc. from proceeding. But the farmers pushed on — they refilled those holes and drove their tractors over that soil. Farmers jumped on the trucks where water was being sprayed on them and turned them off.
The police brutality had just started, however. There are pictures circulating all over social media of police beating 70 year old men. I watched a video of someone from Bihar who put it in the best way to ignite some compassion in his countrymen — it wasn’t a police officer hitting an elderly man. It was a son beating his father.
At the Ambala border, several tear gas shells were fired at the protesters. At the Shambhu border, protesters were pelting stones at the Haryana police. All of the government’s efforts to stop these farmers from entering Delhi were ineffective. There was an emotional toll of watching a man that could be my grandfather being beaten by the police, tear gassed, and water cannons spraying him in the middle of winter.
And in the midst of the above, the Indian media and government were trying to fuel controversy and conspiracy theories about the Punjabi farmers to the Indian population. Of course, this is nothing knew for Sikh’s across the world. The Indian government has been saying that the farmers are tied to political parties and labelling them terrorists. There is no political agenda other than repealing the farmers bill. There is no conspiracy theory. And at the same time, while our own community was trying to raise awareness of what was going on in India on social media, and specifically on Instagram, a whole religion was blocked. The hashtag #Sikh was blocked for the second time this year. The first time during the anniversary of the attacks on the Golden Temple and the Delhi riots when Sikh’s were attacked. And this time, even if you tried to search #Sikh or #Sikhism, nudity posts would show up on our feed. You tell me where the conspiracy is? Farmers fighting for their rights or the Indian government trying to censor us?
While the police brutality continued, I continued to search social media to see if any of the mainstream outlets were discussing our plight. Needless to say really, but there wasn’t any posts on social media. At the time, BBC News has been one of the only media outlets posting about the plight of farmers from the beginning. I am disappointed (but not surprised) with how little media attention has been given to the Punjabi farmers protest by CBC, CTV, Global News, CNN, CP24, etc. And how literally no one outside of my own community has posted about it nor has Bollywood. You know when people complained and were shocked/stunned about the police brutality during the BLM movement, we posted in their support. We posted to help raise awareness to their injustices. Now we have the Indian police committing the same atrocities and against our grandparents, the world is silent.
Not just the world, but celebrities across Bollywood are also quiet, people from our own Punjabi community within Bollywood are not as vocal. Afraid to support the kisaan (farmer) because of their close relationships with Modi and one of the richest families in India — the Ambani’s. Bollywood has used Punjab whenever it has suited them and exploited it to sell some box office hits. Yet when Punjab could’ve used the support of their fellow countrymen, Bollywood has remained silent. Just to put into perspective, here are a few movies that were based on Punjab or Sikhs — DDLJ, Pardes, Veer Zara, Soldier, Bhagat Singh, Kesari, Sacred Games, Gadar Ek Prem Katha, Son of Sardaar, Rocket Singh, Border, Singh is King, Dil Bole Hadippa, etc. This is the same Bollywood community that selectively supported the BLM movement and then posted about All Lives Matter after getting flack on an Instagram story, all while leaving out the Sikh community as a whole in its post. They exploit our culture, but don’t support us! They remain silent on the injustices happening to their own people.
But we do have one actress who did talk about the kisaan. She chose to call the Sikh farmers terrorists. We also have Bollywood actors turned politicians from the BJP in Punjab — like MP Sunny Deol and MP Kirron Kher — again silent on the issue. However, we do have MP Kher’s husband, a fellow actor, supporting the farmers bill.
When more than 50,000 farmers are marching to protest their livelihoods and doing it in the midst of COVID-19, they know they have no choice but to fight for their right to a fair wage. Farmers are committing suicide at catastrophic rates in India, so they really have no choice. For them, it’ll either be COVID-19 that takes them or the farmers bill. And they’re willing to take their chances. They know they’re up against the very noose that wants to hang them. And why should the farmers budge when the Indian government wasn’t willing to make any amendments to this bill? Forget the amendments, the government illegally passed the bill. Just look at Bihar and Uttar Pradesh if you want to see what the future holds.
The kisaan have taken six months worth of food to protest the government. There are many more going to Delhi as we speak bringing essential supplies with them. They will not back down, and I hope and pray for their safety while pushing back against a government that has turned its back on the very hand that feeds it.
And do not forget that Punjab de Sher and Sherni’s once fought the Mughals and fought against colonialism (the British) — when you anger that lion, it will roar! These tricks you played have awoken us. This very community you wish to always suppress is the one that has always given back to its country, whether it’s our brothers and sons enlisting in the army to fight for India or the protesters feeding the very policemen that beat them hours earlier. The Sikh community has always been a charitable one and sacrificed itself, either forcefully or on its own accord, for the good of this very nation that suppresses it.
Today, there may be a continent and ocean between us, but that won’t stop us from supporting our brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents in Punjab. For those sidelining this protest arguing that it is a Khalistani movement, you are tarnishing history being made when our 70+ year old grandparents are marching for their right to a fair living, this is a kisaani movement. The kisaan’s are fighting for their future and their grandchildren’s futures. Come back to reality and stop degrading our families.
Finally, I ask that you help raise awareness for our families in India. When you see that frail 70 year old man protesting for the future of his family, remember that could be your grandfather. Or if you someone your fathers age, that could be your father protesting. Have compassion and sympathy for people. You don’t know what people are going through until you walk a day in their shoes. Farming has been a part of my family for generations now. Until my family immigrated to Canada, my father and my uncles were farmers. My grandfather was also a farmer, and great grandfather, etc. These farms are passed down from generation to generation. We might be sitting in Canada, America, or Europe, but our hearts are with these families. We are asking for your support to help raise awareness or to donate to organizations like Khalsa Aid. Go check out their page on Instagram or their website at www.khalsaaid.org for more information. They’re in Delhi right now feeding the farmers and bringing the farmers essential supplies. Make sure you leave ‘Punjab Farmers’ in your e-transfer message so the funds go to the cause you’re donating for.
You can also check out www.kisaani.co and buy some merch. The proceeds go to helping the widows of those farmers that have committed suicide. There is no paid partnership between myself or these organizations. This is strictly me just venting out my frustration with how my people are being treated and the lack of attention western countries are giving this issue.
For those in India, I am requesting that you support our farmers on our behalf and ensure that the correct message be spread rather than deflecting from the kisaani movement. Contact your MPs and inundate them to help support the change that is needed — help ensure the farmers bill is repealed.
If you can’t donate, then please help spread the word on social media with the following hashtags: