In the 16th century, Guru Nanak Dev Ji travelled the world actively challenging the status quo and standing up for human rights, irrespective of caste or creed; he empowered others to use their voices to do the same. Subsequently, he successfully established a global community of people, known today as Sikhs, many of whom originate from the North Indian state of Punjab.
A couple of days ago, Sikhs all over the world celebrated Guru Ji’s 551st Gurpurab (birth anniversary) while over 300,000 farmers from Punjab and Haryana marched to the Indian central government’s HQ in Delhi, invoking Guru Ji’s spirit and teachings to peacefully protest the recent Farmers Bill 2020, passed by PM Modi.
The new reforms essentially open up India’s farming sector to private players. Yet while this clearly benefits agricultural corporations, it threatens the thousands of farmers who have less than five acres of land to their names. These small-holder farmers will have minimal bargaining power to secure the kinds of prices they need for a decent standard of living when they look to negotiate to sell their produce to the big corporations. Moreover, the farmers will not be safeguarded as sellers in any way, nor will they be guaranteed any minimum fixed prices for any of their produce.
These are the same small-holder farmers who collectively control over 86% of India’s cultivated farmland, the same small-holder farmers who were not consulted once before this new legislation was passed, even though it affects their livelihoods in such a colossal way.
Why have they been tossed to the side like nothing more than an afterthought? Left to be swallowed up by corporate giants on the orders of their PM. What kind of PM plays on the chaos of COVID-19 to clandestinely pass important reforms while his citizens aren’t looking?
I find it interesting how the same Modi who adopted the guise of a Sikh man by donning a turban and beard in 1975 to avoid arrest by Indira Gandhi is now instructing police officers to use batons, water canons and tear gas against elderly farmers from that very community that he once piggybacked off of to ensure his own freedom. I guess he never heard the phrase don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
The world’s biggest democracy has shown its true colours by responding to peaceful protesters with brutish violence. A number of leaders from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States have indeed expressed their solidarity with farmers and criticised the Modi government’s handling of the protests. And rightfully so, it’s appalling!
Indian media propaganda predictably plays the “separatist narrative”, labelling the protesters with buzz words like “Khalistanis” and “terrorists”, an unsurprising scaremongering tactic to distract people from the true extent of the injustice that the government has inflicted. In reality, there is no notion of Khalistan attached to this protest, and it’s not just Sikhs who are protesting, nor is it only Punjabis, people from all over the country, including Muslims, Hindus and Christians from all walks of life are joining forces, setting up camps with food and provisions to last them a few months, because they recognize the severity of the matter. It’s a human rights issue and hardworking people’s livelihoods are on the brink of being destroyed.
Like many Punjabis, farming has been at the heart of my family for generations and so following the news via various outlets every day brings about mixed emotions for me. I’m filled with pride and sadness at the same time. Sadness when I see the utter desperation on the elderly farmers’ faces and when I think of the detrimental effect that this Bill will have on so many families’ livelihoods, including my own. My own uncles and cousins are out there right now in the thick of the protests, adamant that they won’t return until the government meets their demands. But that also fills me with pride, especially when I see how all age groups are pulling together and resiliently standing up for what’s right.
It’s a strange position to be in right now being outside of India and so far removed from “the action”. But NRIs across the globe are doing whatever they can to make a difference, however small the gesture may seem, ultimately it all adds up and it all serves to put more and more pressure on the Indian government.
Seeing that #Punjab and #Sikh were trending on Twitter the other day made me proud of how even on a global scale, our kaum (community) is making its voice heard. We’re doing a great job of keeping the momentum going by hashtagging and tweeting, posting on Instagram and Facebook and sharing videos on Whatsapp to keep the spotlight on Delhi. That must continue.
Charities like Khalsa Aid are taking donations which are being used to provide langar (food) for the farmer protesters and I’ve heard of numerous farmer protests taking place across the UK where locals arrive at a location in their vehicles to gather together and show solidarity, while complying with social distancing regulations of course!
I hope that by raising awareness of this issue through my blog that it’ll spread the word too, even if only to the handful of people who read the entire thing!
On the flipside, you see Indian celebrities with huge platforms and significant reach, being detrimental to the cause…Kangana Ranaut I’m rolling my eyes and looking at you. And of course there are also those whose silence and lack of opinion is speaking volumes, cough cough Sunny Deol and Akshay Kumar, or should I say Modi’s puppets, your Punjabi cards have officially been revoked.
The situation as it stands right now is that protesters have set up huge camps at several locations along Delhi’s border. They say they will stay as long as it takes for the government to repeal the Bill.
They’ve come prepared to see this through till the end and they won’t be returning home until their demands are met. From the bottom of my heart I hope and pray that they emerge victorious. ❤