Indian farm protests gain support

WINNIPEG — “No Farmers, No Food.” It’s a phrase that’s popping up across Canada, although it isn’t about Canadian farmers or Canadian food.

It’s appearing at protests in front of legislatures, in other public demonstrations and on a busy Winnipeg street, where somebody has written it in five-foot letters along their fence.

“Winnipeg, Manitoba in solidarity with farmers of India,” reads the rest of the sign.

It’s evidence of the reach that domestic Indian agricultural politics has in Canada, where hundreds of thousands of Indian immigrants live and often keep close connections with their country of origin.

“We are with you,” Mandeep Singh Brar, organizer of a support rally that travelled Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway, said in an interview in December.

“Farmers are essential to the world, and we should respect that.”

That rally brought out an estimated 1,000 vehicles, and the issue continues to be raised in Winnipeg and in cities across Canada.

In a recent call with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau raised the issue, even while focusing on the pressing issues of Canada-India relations and Canada’s hopes to get COVID-19 vaccines from Indian plants.

The protests in India were born from the Modi government’s introduction of three laws that smallholder farmers fear could see them driven off their land. Promoters see the laws as freeing Indian agriculture from regulations that keep it underdeveloped, low-yield and stagnant.

Brar said Indian farmers generally only farm a few acres and are vulnerable to buyers being given more freedom to set prices and access to the market.

The deep resonance of the issue among Indians, especially Sikhs, in Canada is partly due to the continuing deep connections between the two worlds many of the immigrants straddle.

“I still have my land over there,” said Brar, which he added is true of many Indians.

By holding protests across Canada and getting media and political attention, the organizers are hoping to not only pressure the Modi government to pull back from its legislative moves but also to show support for the protesting farmers in India.

“They were sitting on the roads and living on the roads (during the protests in India) for all day and all night,” said Brar.

“Basically, we wanted to give them support. We can show them we are all together. We can show them we have a unity. We can show them that we respect the farmers.”

The international campaign of solidarity has drawn support from some western celebrities, such as Rihanna and Greta Thunberg.

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