British Columbia

Hundreds rally in Vancouver to support farmers protesting changes to laws in India

Protesters gathered outside the Indian consulate in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday in solidarity with farmers protesting in New Delhi, who say agricultural reforms threaten their livelihood.

Farmers in India say agricultural reforms threaten their livelihood

Demonstrators take part in a rally in support of Indian farmers outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver on Tuesday. Farmers in India have been protesting against new laws that the government says will make the sector more efficient. But farmers say the laws threaten their livelihood. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Armed with a sign that reads, "We Support Farmers," Virpal Grewal joined about 100 others demonstrating outside the Indian consulate in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday.

Grewal comes from a generation of farmers, with her father still farming in India.

"We are worried about what happens there every day," Grewal said about why she joined the car rally on the global day of action, which saw protests all over the world. Jan. 26 is India's Republic Day, which marks the day in 1950 its constitution came into effect.

In India, thousands of farmers protesting agricultural reforms stormed into the historic Red Fort complex in New Delhi, fighting off tear gas and tearing down barricades. According to a witness, one protester was killed.

Farmers have been protesting for almost two months against new laws that the Indian government says will make the sector more efficient, allowing farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. But farmers say the laws help large, private buyers and will threaten their livelihood.

Tens of thousands have since marched to New Delhi, India's capital, where they have clashed with police and set up protest camps.

"They have lots of people there, like thousands, millions on the road, right? Eating on the road, sleeping on the road, and it's cold weather there," Grewal said. "And the people are, like, 80, 90 years old, or one-year-old, three-year-old kids, because everybody is worried about jobs, they depend on farming."

Some demonstrators came by car, driving from Surrey to Vancouver, to join the global day of action for farmers in India. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Another demonstrator in downtown Vancouver, Yadwinder Singh, said he was there to show solidarity with protesters in India and to oppose the violence they have experienced.

"It's very, very disappointing to see the government, who is supposed to be working for our welfare, doing what it is doing. It is completely neglecting the state in which people are at the moment," he said.

Singh said the unrestricted private trade of crops hasn't worked in other parts of the country where it was introduced.

"There are several states in India, particularly in Bihar, where these types of laws were implemented 20 years ago. Farmers in that state are the poorest farmers in the country, so I cannot see why these laws are implemented," he said.

Protesters march around the streets near the Indian consulate in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday, India's Republic Day, which marks the day in 1950 its constitution took effect. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Singh said he also believes the laws were rushed without proper debate and consultation.

"I even contest that these are completely democratic laws; these are half-cooked laws which do not have consent of even the Parliament; these are undemocratic even from their conception," he said.

Other protesters, such as Michael Parnar, want the Canadian government to put more pressure on the Indian government to repeal the laws.

Demonstrators in Vancouver show up in cars and tractors to bring attention to the ongoing protests in India over agricultural reforms. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has voiced concern over the Indian government's response to the protesters.

Despite anger from an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, who called Trudeau's comments "ill informed," the prime minister reiterated his support.

"Canada will always stand up for the right of peaceful protest anywhere around the world, and we're pleased to see moves toward de-escalation and dialogue," Trudeau said. 

Parnar, however, said he would like to see Trudeau take a harder stance against the Indian government.

"Tariffs, embargoes, do whatever you need to do — even freeze assets of those in power. It's really not going to make a change until the Canadian government gathers support from the international community," he said. "Once that happens, then there will be real pressure on the Indian government."

Meanwhile, protesters vowed to continue showing their solidarity here until the laws are repealed in India.