Laws passed by the Indian government prompts solidarity movement among the Punjabi-Sikh community across the globe
On Dec. 5, the largest protest by Sikh Punjabis in support of Indian farmers in the U.S. took place in San Francisco, with about 10,000 vehicles forming a 20-mile caravan from Oakland to the Indian Consulate.
This movement began in September, when the Indian government passed a series of laws, being referred to as “black laws,” that were meant to revolutionize and deregulate the agriculture sector. These laws have been met with resistance from Punjabi farmers, who are directly affected. In turn, the government has responded violently to the farmers’ protests. This reaction and the lack of media attention from the Indian government has prompted the Punjabi-Sikh community across the globe to protest in solidarity with the farmers back home.
Jaspreet Khunkhun, a third-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, attended the rally in San Francisco. Khunkhun noted that the new laws enable farmers to be exploited by larger corporations. The first law eliminates the minimum support price (MSP), which guarantees a certain purchase price from the government for at least a few crops.
“Now imagine this, [what] if we had no minimum wage and large corporations could pay you as little as $2 an hour, [and] while you peacefully protest, you are getting attacked by the police. This is what is happening in India right now,” Khunkhun said via email.
Eliminating MSP allows corporations to make farmers sell at lower prices, likely driving them into debt.
The severity of this issue is now being recognized not only within the state of Punjab, but across the world. Sikh communities have united in demonstrations outside of Indian embassies in the U.S., the UK, Canada and Australia.
“With more coverage and leaders speaking out about this issue, it will put pressure on the government to meet the demands of the farmers,” Khunkhun said. “Our farmers will continue staying in the streets of Delhi and a worldwide movement will continue to occur in solidarity with our farmers. We will not stop until our farmers get the justice they deserve.”
Khunkhun encourages community members to stay educated through social media posts and to help spread awareness. Posts related to the issue can be found under the hashtags #nofarmersnofood, #isupportfarmers, and #farmersprotestors.
Navya Kaur, a 2020 graduate from San Jose State University who majored in American studies, also attended the protest in San Francisco. Kaur stated that she was astonished by the turnout and inspired to see the unity between the Punjabi-Sikh community overseas and in India.
“I think the energy put out in San Francisco was a result of the mass mobilization we’re seeing in India right now,” Kaur said. “These are people who, despite having their livelihoods threatened, [having] faced the trauma of Partition and the 1984 Sikh Genocide, and [having] a fascist government are dancing in the streets, setting up cinemas and foot massage stations, and giving out langar. Seeing images like this from journalists on the ground made me realize that though I am miles away, this movement is personal. We have to show up for our people back home, because, especially in our position of privilege, it’s the right thing to do.”
Kaur also stated that these protests can inspire art, and art, in turn, can be used as a political tool.
“Already, I am seeing friends creating things from digital design, poetry, videography and photography in relation to this protest,” Kaur said. “Art serves as a political tool, and I’m fascinated to see how people who cannot be there in India to protest are using their skills, time and energy in California or elsewhere to propel this movement forward.”
Kavenpreet Bal, a third-year biological sciences major, is the Vaddha Chotta Coordinator for the Sikh Cultural Association (SCA) and the Social Justice Committee Lead for the Bhagat Puran Singh Health Initiative (BPSHI) at UC Davis. Bal pointed out that the new laws significantly impact a majority of the population in India, as 60-70% of the total population are farmers. A large portion of the protestors are the elderly, whose livelihoods depend on farming.
“It’s the middle of a pandemic, it’s freezing, it’s raining, but these people are traveling and moving,” Bal said. “Largely, we see it’s the older population who’s lived on farming for generations and generations. And they know that if these rights are infringed upon, they’ll have nothing left.”
Although the main battle is taking place overseas, Bal stated that there are still several ways to show support from Davis. For example, Bal has drafted an email template highlighting the events taking place in India. Bal shared this template with approximately 65 members of BPSHI, who can then send those emails to politicians and share the template with others who would like to get involved. BPSHI was also able to fundraise and donate $2,000 to Khalsa Aid, one of the largest Sikh nonprofit organizations in the world. These funds were then used to pay for the food and services for farmers who are protesting.
“This issue sort of became my forefront because this injustice was happening to our brothers and sisters in India,” Bal said. “I wanted to use my access and privilege of education to help fight my battle over here for them.”
One of the most prominent issues that Bal encourages community members to fight against is the large censorship of national media from the Indian government. The protests currently taking place in India are among the largest in history, with over 250 million people joining the movement, yet so much of it is not being televised or reported.
“By raising awareness, we raise a group of people who understand the injustice and people who can contribute to the protest, people who can network to their different communities,” Bal said. “It’s so amazing to see solidarity and unity between groups of people who are fighting for the same thing. And honestly, it’s empowering to see people from our community, people from other communities coming out and standing together.”
Written by: Liana Mae Atizado— firstname.lastname@example.org