Hundreds of people gathered Saturday outside the Indian consulate in downtown Toronto to show their support for farmers in India who are protesting against the new laws they believe will destroy their livelihoods.
Many of those who organized at the consulate are Canadians from the Sikh community who say farmers are working tirelessly to feed India and the world – and that farmers now need support more than ever as their right to peaceful protest has been blocked by police which “we used against them with methods like tear gas, clubs and water cannons.
“Our farmers are the backbone of our nation. This question has made its way home… their lives matter to us, ”said Mansi Kaur protesters, hearing dozens of car horns sounding during the rally.
Kaur gathered with hundreds of others who were wearing masks and holding signs of endorsement to farmers, with slogans such as “Justice for Farmers” and “No Farmers, No Food.” Others stayed in their cars at the demonstration.
She said she was there with others to protest against the three new laws in India which they believe will lower crop prices and exploit farmers by large corporations.
Thousands of farmers in India have camped on the outskirts of the capital for the last 10 days until the new agriculture laws are phased out. They head towards New Delhi, continuing their talks.
The Indian government failed to break the deadlock with farmers on Saturday and will meet again on Wednesday, the agriculture minister and union leaders said.
Farmers have long been considered the heart and soul of India, where agriculture serves more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people, but farmers have also seen their economic strength decline over the past three decades.
The Indian government said the aim of the legislation is to introduce reforms that will allow farmers to sell their produce and increase production through private investment.
Farmers fear that the legislation will eventually end India’s regulated markets and stop the government from buying wheat and rice at guaranteed prices, leaving them to negotiate with private buyers. They call on the government, among other things, to repeal laws and maintain compulsory government purchases.
“It would be as if we went to work and the minimum wage was gone,” said Nanki Kaur, who was also at the Toronto rally. – They’re feeding us. It is up to us whether we will protect them.
Solidarity on the part of the Sikh diaspora in Canada
Jaskaran Sandhu, director of administration of the World Sikh Organization in Canada, said the protests taking place in India are “historic” and that their images have profoundly influenced the lives of the Sikh people of Canada.
“For all of us here, we have family and friends at home. So when we watch images of police brutality, when we watch images and videos of water cannons and tear gas, and police allegations with sticks, it really hurts us, ‘he said.
But Sandhu said it was also inspiring to see the persistence of farmers who, despite police action, continue to claim their right to peaceful protest.
Sandhu added that many of the people attending the Toronto rally have families participating in the protests in India, including the elderly, which made it terrifying to watch the situation from afar.
“As Canadians, as Sikhs and Punjabis living in the Diaspora, we want to keep our people safe and have the right to peaceful protest,” said Sandhu, adding that people in communities across Canada are having the same conversations in their households.
WATCH | Canadians protest in solidarity with Indian farmers:
Cities like Vancouver and Ottawa have also held car rallies to show solidarity, Sandhu said. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, the comments earlier this week, which called the Indian Government’s response to the protesters “concerning”, were also very helpful.
These comments provoked a swift response from officials in India who said Trudeau was “misinformed.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers also framed farmers as “anti-national” – a term the government has long used against its critics.
“We need people to stand up and speak so the Indian government knows they are being watched,” said Sandhu.
Blankets, menstrual sets among the supplies sent by the fundraiser group
In addition to rallies, Sikh communities in Canada are supporting protesters in India by sending them supplies to continue their efforts, said Gurpartap Singh Toor, a volunteer with Khalsa Aid Canada.
“We received an overwhelming amount of support,” he said.
The fundraising group is focused on improving the health and safety of demonstration farmers, Toor said. Khalsa Aid Canada sent fire extinguishers – while farmers cook on the ground while camping – as well as camping sprinklers to prevent mosquito bites, which can sometimes cause disease.
Toor said menstrual kits were also shipped due to an “unprecedented” number of women at the protests, along with portable bathrooms that provide women with safe and private spaces to use the bathroom. The cold weather at night was also a problem, so Toor said the organization had sent blankets and shelters for farmers, especially for seniors who were protesting.
“I would say a lot of people in Canada have families who are now in protests … safety is the biggest concern,” he said, adding that fear of continued police violence was still high.
Toor said farmers asked him and others to create as much public awareness as possible about the problem. “It brings a lot of global eyes to India, so the government knows if they act with evil intentions, the world is watching,” he said.