When tens of thousands of farmers marched towards the Indian capital of New Delhi on their tractors and on foot demanding the Modi government to repeal new laws, which they call “death warrant”, the farmers were met with tear gas, batons and water cannons – the kind of police brutality that is the hallmark of the BJP government. Braving both state brutality and cold winter, more than 200,000 Sikh farmers, who have fed millions and raised generations, vow to continue protest until the laws are scrapped.
“We are ready to sacrifice our lives, even ready to die”, said 65-year-old woman farmer Sukhvinder Kaur, exuding the spirit and resilience of the farmers from Punjab and Haryana, known as the food basket of India. Farmers believe that the reforms, which government says will improve agriculture, will leave the growers at the mercy of corporates who will pay awfully low prices for crops, plunging them into debt and financial ruin. This is why the protests have been called the “movement for future and survival” of Indian farmers.
Modi’s agenda is to crush the farmers’ protest “by hook or by crook and that is why they are branding us Khalistanis” demonstrators criticized.
Sikh farmers protests win sympathy around the World
The photo of an Indian policeman swaying his baton at an elderly Sikh man, labeled as the defining moment of the farmers’ protest, reminded many of the recent protests by Muslims against religious discrimination in India following a divisive citizenship law. Both protests, though different in nature, spotlight Modi’s human rights violations and violent crackdown on free speech to silence the protesters. The scenes of clashes at the farmers’ protest explicitly ignored by Modi government and overlooked by Indian mainstream media have earned incredible public sympathy around the globe, especially among the Sikh diaspora in Canada, UK, US, and, Australia.
In Toronto, thousands gathered outside the Indian consulate to show support for the farmers holding placards that read: “Justice for Farmers” and “No Farmers, No Food.” Indian police cruelty has greatly affected the Sikh community. “The videos of water cannons and tear gasses and charges from the police with sticks, it really hurts us,” said Jaskaran Sandhu from the World Sikh Organization of Canada. At the same time, they call the protests in India “historic” and the perseverance of the farmers “inspiring.”
This is why Sikhs and Punjabis all over the world are not only showing their support online and verbally but also providing on-the-ground assistance. The team of the Canadian branch of Khalsa Aid, a non-profit humanitarian organization, has set up camps in New Delhi to provide food, clean water, blankets, and shelters.
Is India Even a Democracy?
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concerns and said that his country “will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest.” The Indian government, least worried about the poor farmers, was quick to snub Trudeau’s comments, which it said were “ill-informed”, “unwarranted” and interference in “the internal affairs of a democratic country.”
But what democracy attacks the peaceful protesters in the most ruthless way? Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also raised this concern in a tweet: “The reports of peaceful protesters being brutalized in India are very troubling. Many of my constituents have family there and are worried about the safety of their loved ones.” Another Punjabi Canadian MP Sukh Dhaliwal said that he was “very disturbed by the treatment of Punjabi farmers in India – this blatant abuse by Indian authorities is unacceptable.”
Farmers believe that the reforms, which government says will improve agriculture, will leave the growers at the mercy of corporates who will pay awfully low prices for crops, plunging them into debt and financial ruin.
Sikhs United Against the “Death Warrant” for “India’s breadbasket”
The scenes in central London were no different than Delhi, signifying the strength, courage, and unity of the Sikhs all over the world. The protest was described as the “siege of the Indian High Commission in London” by Sikh Federation UK, the first Sikh political party in the United Kingdom, home to a large Sikh diaspora. The biggest support for the protesting farmers in fact came from the UK as 36 British parliamentarians wrote a letter to UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab calling for an urgent meeting to “discuss the deteriorating situation in the Punjab.”
Terming the new farm laws as a “death warrant” for “India’s breadbasket”, the letter said the protests “are of particular concern to Sikhs in the UK” as many have family members and ancestral land in Punjab. “The Punjabi farming community is widely recognized as the backbone of the state’s economic structure and the farmer’s concerns are a powerful factor in national and state politics.”
The heartbreaking images of protests also stirred protests and debates in Australian cities including Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Canberra. Australian parliamentarian Rob Mitchell was moved by the concerns of members of his constituency about escalation between Sikh farmers and the Indian government. He called upon the Indian government to show restraint and compassion for the protesters as he offered support to communities “who are very disturbed by the treatment of Punjabi farmers in India and those who fear for their safety while peacefully protesting.”
Mitchell also voiced fears for Indian farmers who committed suicide due to “growing debt, poor harvests, and drought.” In his letter, the UK MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi also highlighted the human tragedy of farmers’ suicide due to debt and dreaded the new laws have added to the tragedy. Over 321,428 farmers gave committed suicide in the last 20 years, according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
BJP manipulation and trolling to silence farmers
What stunned and dismayed many were the online abuses and trolls to disrepute a genuine concern of the farmers to isolate the 22-million Sikhs in India. Modi’s agenda is to crush the farmers’ protest “by hook or by crook and that is why they are branding us Khalistanis” demonstrators criticized. “Modi supporters are used to labeling any Muslim critic as Jihadi terrorist and any leftist critic as a Maoist or urban Naxal… They brand any Sikh as a potential Khalistani to silence any voice of dissent. The message for all of them is that either stay in India on our terms or go to Pakistan” writes Gurpreet Singh, author, and activist.
First, the Modi-led government paid no heed to Sikh farmers, they tried to stop them from protesting, “then they assaulted them brutally. And if that were not enough, they give them a bad name. Such measures will bring more alienation and eventually revitalize the movement of Khalistan.”
The photo of an Indian policeman swaying his baton at an elderly Sikh man, labeled as the defining moment of the farmers’ protest, reminded many of the recent protests by Muslims against religious discrimination in India following a divisive citizenship law.
Modi’s Witch-hunt Continues
From canceling the special status of India’s only Muslim-majority state Jammu and Kashmir to contentious citizenship laws targeting minorities, from Gujarat riots 2002 to New Delhi clashes 2020, the Indian state is pursuing a purely Hindu nationalist agenda and following a pattern of provoking citizens by passing laws against the minorities and then branding protesters as “traitors” and “anti-nationals” to suppress their voices.
Modi government’s “widespread practice of harassing” and prosecuting outspoken human rights defenders and journalists for critiquing government policies have been slammed by international watchdogs. This year, Amnesty International had to close its offices in India due to the “incessant witch hunt of human rights organizations by the government of India over unfounded and motivated allegations.”
Modi’s circle of witch-hunts is increasing every day in India to identify, attack and crush every voice and genuine concern considered threat or resistance to the Hindutva regime. However, the recent assault on the minority Sikh farmers by the Indian regime is an attack on the hands that feed the nation.
With the divine messages of peace and standing up to injustice by Baba Guru Nanak Dev at the core of the farmers’ protest in India, the Sikh farmers despite facing violence remain peaceful yet fearless. Some have brought enough supplies to last for at least six months. “Modi wants the poor farmer to die of hunger so that he can fill the stomachs of his rich friends…We are here to fight his brutal decrees peacefully,” said one farmer.
The author is a Pakistani journalist and a news anchor, he holds a Masters in Journalism from Federal Urdu University Karachi. He can be followed on twitter: @SighHarmeet The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.