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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Edited by Adam Rizvi, TIO: Loud cries of ‘Sadda Haqq ithe rakh’ (give us back our rights), ‘No Farmer, No Food’, rang out at the Dallas City Hall, in Texas, the venue of protests by members of the Sikh community, to support the ongoing farmer protests in India. The freezing temperatures at 40°F (4°C) and steady rainfall could not keep a determined lot of Sikhs from registering their protest against the recent farm laws, passed by the Narendra Modi government in India, which threatens to negatively impact the lives of an estimated 16 million farmers and that of a couple of million traders associated with agriculture across India.
The protest in Dallas was surprisingly spontaneous, organized by a bunch of teenagers and young adults in the early twenties, mostly born in the US, and yet aware and angered at news of the farmers’ protests.
Members of the Coalition against Genocide, which is an umbrella organization of several organizations, including the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) and Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) joined in the protests to express their solidarity with their Sikh brethren. “We have launched a weekend of solidarity with the farmers and the oppressed minorities of India to draw attention in the West against the increasing brutality by the religious supremacist government of India”, state’s Dr. Shaik Ubaid, the National CI chair of (ASPIRE) Alliance to Save and Protect America from Infiltration by Religious Extremists. ASPAIRE too has been active in these protests, across the US.
As many as 250-300 protestors braved cold weather, to express their support, warning the Indian government that they will not stop, till the Modi government does not roll back the three farm laws that it passed in parliament in September this year. The farmers in India who perceive these laws as highly detrimental to them have been protesting against it for about two months in Punjab, before arriving on the borders of Delhi to launch their protests against it. The prime minister instead of having a dialogue with the farmers on the merits of the bill if any, is speaking on every other platform on how the bills will revolutionize farming. So far the government has hoped to tire out the farmers by having its ministers, including the Home minister Amit Shah engage with the farmers in lengthy discussions in six different meetings, all of which have ended inclusively.
200,000 to 300,000 farmers have converged on Delhi borders since November 26, when the government insisted that they cannot enter Delhi under section 144, in view of the prevailing covid pandemic in the country. Since then support for them is swelling not just in the country, with 250 million supporting the general strike called by them on November 26, but from around the world, with international media keenly watching the developing news.
The three farm laws hurriedly passed by the Modi government in parliament, without any discussion on it, seek to corporatize agriculture, risking the livelihood of millions. In the meeting with farmers, though Amit Shah agreed that there are flaws in the bill, after the farmers pointed it out, also accepting that it was a mistake not discussing the bill with the farmers first, there is extreme reluctance to withdraw the act.
The government has also got rid of the Essential Commodities Act. Where stocking of essential food items, beyond a certain limit, was a crime, the government today has removed all limits. This move to give immeasurable power to corporates to store as many grains as they want, how much ever they want, would not only be detrimental to the farmers, but also to the rest of the population when prices of grains skyrocket. And yet the government insists on spreading misinformation that only farmers from Punjab are protesting and that they have been misled by vested elements.
Similar protests, which also took the form of car rallies, where hundreds of cars lined up and slowly drove around the venue, with blinking headlights, happened in several other cities in the US over the weekend, including Denver, Washington DC, North Carolina, Boston, New York, and Chicago. The largest protests happened in Denver and Washington DC, where over 400 cars and about a thousand protestors gathered to protest.
Just like the Daadis of Shaheen Bagh and bebes of Punjab have been winning hearts around the world, Dallas protest warmed up with the entry of 87-year-old Bebe Nachhater Banipal, from Khanna Ludhiana, who insisted on being at the venue, despite the chilly weather, to register her protest. In her clear crisp voice she stated that if she had been in India, she would have been at the border protesting along with the farmers. A mother to three daughters all settled abroad, she still holds on to the land that the family owns in Punjab.
All the protest sites, across the US, have not only rung out with cries of support for the Indian farmers, but also with threats to the Indian government that the protests will only intensify till the “black” laws are not rolled back.
The protestors made it very clear that they are well aware of the Modi government’s attempts with the time tested old, jaded technique of first defaming them, by labeling them as Khalistanis and Maoists, with the help of the submissive media and then dividing them, to disrupt the protests. They insisted that it did not work during the British rule and it will not work now.
Jovan Preet, a real estate agent, and Micky Kaur, still a student were moved to organize this protest after watching footage of the farmer struggle in India, making them angrier by the day. Within a matter of a couple of days, they were able to mobilize support from the community, to protest.
The protestors here, like the protestors in India, are well aware that the Modi government is exceedingly arrogant and that it is hoping that the farmers would be defeated by the cold and they would go home soon. But the protestors warned that the government is sadly mistaken and that their numbers are only growing, not dwindling, despite the 11 lives lost so far in the protests.
Wielding the mike, Jaswinder Kaur, in her 50’s expressed that the Modi government would have been scared by now, if only it depended on people’s votes to stay in power. But by manipulating the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM’s), they think they can hang on to power despite the unrest in the country. Thereby stealing the people’s mandate and gaining illegal control of the country.
“The lack of fear of losing their power is making them more and more arrogant and they think they can subdue all critical voices by using brute force”.
“Indian is in danger like never before, with several groups of citizens, whether they are university students, doctor’s, employees from various public sectors, including railways and banks, Muslims, Dalits, all battling an arrogant government, which refuses to indulge in a dialogue, before passing tyrannical laws, which only harm their interests. And it is now or never, to push back the dictatorial government, with one of the strongest communities jumping in to wage a battle against the Modi government”, said one of the protestors.
Soni Dhillon, who owns a few gas stations in Dallas, insisted that the reason the farmers are so enraged is that most people in Punjab and Haryana are still holding on to a majority of their land, irrespective of whether it’s just an acre or 100’s of acres. “They are proud of being landlords and are now worried that they will lose their lands”, he said. He insisted that they have lost the trust in existing political parties in Punjab and that they will support only those farmers who support farmer interests.
One of the protestors, associated with the Khalsa Aid, announced that the Sikh community will no longer rely on any government after the failure of the Captain Amrinder Singh government in Punjab to address their issues. “The Sikhs around the world have decided to take care of our own and have worked out that if every NRI family donates just $ 1000, the debts of the entire Sikh farmer community can be wiped out. Farmers saddled by huge debts which they may have taken for their children’s education, marriage or to offset agricultural losses, would all be sought to be paid off”, he said.
A Sikh protest is incomplete with a few passionate songs, sung in their loud, ringing, vibrant tones and the honors were done in this protest too by Amar Sandhu, a local singer, who enjoys quite a following among the South Asian American community.
Teenager Karan Bedi, one of the youngest vocal protestors, born and brought up in the US, too feels the pain of the farmers, through constant dialogues with his grandfather, which made him pen a few lines, which pretty much sums up the spirit of the protests.
As he belted out in Punjabi, that “we stand here like Lions, capable of whipping up a thunder. As farmers who bleed at the destruction of their fields, which they nurture, like their own sons, are in Delhi only to demand their rights. The Modi government needs to realize that we are a united force. Watch us rise like a wave before you talk to us. Our bodies can become mass graves here, but we will not put our heads down in surrender. We can give our lives happily, but when we are pushed to a corner, our anger can destroy us too. We are the children of Guru Gobind Singh and we stand here like Lions. Watch us as we surround you if you refuse to take your black laws back. We will not sell our lands, the way you (Modi) have sold your soul to Ambani/Adani. You want to hang the one who feeds you but our voices continue to keep ringing loud enough for BBC to pick it up”.
Curated By Humra Kidwai