Toronto, Canada – Faced with near-freezing temperatures and rains, hundreds of people in Canada’s major cities went out over the weekend to demonstrate their solidarity with the Protestant peasants in India.
Rallies were held in Montreal, Toronto and other Canadian cities against the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi passing disputed farm laws 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’s not fair what’s going on there, ”Al Jazeera Manpreet Singh Pabla, a Toronto businessman protesting outside the Indian consulate, told Al Jazeera.
Pabla, whose late grandfather was a farmer and whose family members still farm at home, said the solidarity demonstrations were not about one religious group.
“These [Canadian demonstrations] it’s not just about Sikhs or Punjabis or religious people – they’re all about peasants. 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 most powerful immigrant groups in the country.
The weekly protests of peasants in India have seen a massive turnout of Sikh peasants, most of them belonging to the northwestern states of Punjab and Haryana.
However, farmers from all over India, including the states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, have also been extradited, condemning the new laws and demanding their repeal.
Amanpreet Singh, president of the Sikh gurdwar guru Nanak Darbar temple in Montreal, said about 1,000 people showed up for a Peasant Rally he helped organize on Saturday.
“There were at least 300-400 cars that attended 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) of Canada, said for “the majority of Sikhs and Punjabis in the diaspora,” there is still a strong link to farming at home, with their involvement in the business back. generations.
“In fact, the bond is so strong [that] many Punjabis and Sikhs who settle abroad are actually going to agriculture, ”Sandhu said, citing examples of Punjabis operating farms in several provinces of Canada.
The Bharatiya Janata Party of Modi (BJP) says the new laws allow farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers and improve the harvest.
But farmers fear the legislation will eventually cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices, leaving them open to exploitation by companies. In addition, critics say the laws have been scrutinized through parliament with little or no consultation.
Indian police attacked protesters with sticks, a water cannon and tear gas as farmers tried to enter New Delhi last month. Thousands of them continue to protest at various highways leading to the Indian capital.
Various negotiations between the leaders of the peasant unions and the government failed to break the bloc.
Pabla said he hopes more people of other backgrounds, not just of Indian descent, will join the Canadian rallies, similar to the Black Lives protests last summer.
“After all, if you ate, it was because of a farmer,” he says.
WSO’s Sandhu said the protests in Canada are aimed at increasing “international scrutiny” about India and that global leaders should speak in such a way that “India knows they are being watched”.
Speaking at an event last month to celebrate the 551st birthday of Sikh founder Guru Nanak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said reports from 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 calling on the Canadian envoy in 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 opposition Conservative Party.
Jagmeet Singh, the Sikh leader of the left-leaning National Democratic Party said that “the world is watching as these protesters encounter violence and brutality from the Indian state”.
Sandhu of the WSO said there was “nothing controversial” about “whatever Trudeau, Singh or O’Toole said.”
“India is very self-conscious about any kind of scrutiny, considering their atrocious human rights history and history of state subsidies against minorities. And when Canada does it, in their minds it always seems to be the promotion of the Sikh diaspora behind it.”
Trudeau is seen as a strong proponent of immigration, something that has been praised for including members of minorities in his cabinet, including three Sikhs.
Ties between Canada and India have remained frozen since Trudeau came to power, reaching a new low in February 2018, when he visited India and was “flirted” for most of his trip by Modi and his ministers.
India accuses Canada of supporting Sikh separatism, known as the Kalistan Movement, which aspires to a separate homeland for Sikhs. Ottawa vehemently denied the allegations.