Toronto, Canada – Breaking through the freezing temperatures and rains, hundreds of people from major Canadian cities came out over the weekend to show solidarity with protesting farmers in India.
Rallies were held in Montreal, Toronto and other Canadian cities against the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who passed controversial farm bills in September, which farmers say will deregulate the agricultural sector and drastically affect their livelihoods.
“We are here because the laws are simply unfair. It is not fair what is happening there, “Manpreet Singh Pabla, a Toronto-based businessman protesting outside the Indian consulate, told Al Jazeera.
Pabla, whose late grandfather was a farmer and whose family members are still farmers, said the demonstrations of solidarity were not linked to a single religious group.
“These [Canadian demonstrations] they are not just about Sikhs or Punjabi or religious – they are about all farmers. We are just trying to help protect people’s livelihoods and their way of life. “
Sikhs make up less than two per cent of Canada’s population, but the community is one of the strongest immigrant groups in the country.
The protests of week-old farmers in India have seen the mass participation of Sikh farmers, most of whom belong to the northwestern states of Punjab and Haryana.
However, farmers across India, including Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, have also taken to the streets, condemning the new laws and calling for their repeal.
Amanpreet Singh, president of the Sikh Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar temple in Montreal, said about 1,000 people attended a farmers’ rally he helped on Saturday.
“At least 300-400 cars took part in the demonstration,” Singh said, adding that he had previously worked as a farmer in India.
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Jaskaran Sandhu, managing director at the World Sikh Organization (WSO) in Canada, said that for “most Sikhs and punishments in the diaspora,” there is still a strong connection to home farming, with their involvement in trade going back generations.
“In fact, the connection is so strong [that] many Punjabi and Sikhs who settle abroad actually go into agriculture, ”Sandhu said, citing examples of Punjabis exploiting farms in several Canadian provinces.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Modi says the new laws allow farmers to sell their products directly to private buyers and will increase crop production.
But farmers fear that the legislation will eventually cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices, leaving them open for exploitation by corporations. Moreover, critics say the laws were passed in parliament without much consultation.
Indian police attacked protesters with sticks, water cannons and tear gas as farmers tried to enter New Delhi last month. Thousands continue to protest on various highways leading to the Indian capital.
Various rounds of negotiations between farmers’ union leaders and the government have failed to break the deadlock.
Pabla said he hopes more people from other backgrounds, not just Indians, will join Canadian rallies, similar to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
“In the end, if you ate, it was because of a farmer,” he says.
WSO’s Sandhu said the protests in Canada were aimed at increasing “international control” over India and that world leaders would speak so that “India knows they are being pursued.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke at an event last month to mark the 551st anniversary of the founding of Sikh’s founder, Guru Nanak, and said reports in India were “worrying” and that his country “will always be there”. to defend the rights of peaceful protest ”.
India condemned Trudeau’s comments, calling them “unacceptable interference in our internal affairs” and called on the Canadian envoy to New Delhi to file a complaint.
But Trudeau was not alone. Various leaders of Canada’s ruling and opposition parties have expressed concern over the protests, including Erin O’Toole of the Conservative opposition party.
Jagmeet Singh, the left-leaning Sikh leader of the National Democratic Party, said “the world is watching when these protesters were met with violence and brutality by the Indian state.”
WSO’s Sandhu said there was “nothing controversial” about “whatever Trudeau, Singh or O’Toole said.”
“India is very self-conscious about any kind of control, given their atrocious human rights recordings and history of violence against state-sponsored minorities. And when Canada does, it always seems to be the plea of the Sikh diaspora behind it. “
Trudeau is seen as a strong supporter of immigration, someone who has been praised for including members of minority groups in his cabinet, including three Sikhs.
Canada-India ties have been frozen since Trudeau took power in 2015, reaching a new low in February 2018, when he visited India and was “clogged” for most of his trip by Modi and his ministers. .
India accuses Canada of supporting Sikh separatism, known as the Khalistan Movement, which aspires to a separate homeland for Sikhs. Ottawa vehemently denied the allegations.