Calgarians with ties to India support historic farmers protest in Delhi

Calgarians with roots in India — and in some cases, land there, too — are supporting tens of thousands of farmers in that country involved in mass protests in Delhi, the Indian capital.

Hundreds rally in Calgary to protest laws they say would kill smaller scale farming

A banner on the back of one of hundreds of vehicles that turned out Sunday in Calgary to support Indian farmers. (Submitted by Jagpreet Singh Shergill)

Calgarians with roots in India — and in some cases, land there, too — are supporting tens of thousands of farmers in that country involved in mass protests outside Delhi, fighting new laws that will change their industry and impact their livelihoods.

The farmers have travelled to the Indian capital from rural regions like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, with many making the journey in tractors and on farm equipment.

Watching from thousands of kilometres away, Calgarians with strong ties to Punjab and other parts of India are finding ways to support the farmers. That includes taking part in social media campaigns and a car rally, which attracted hundreds in northeast Calgary this past weekend. 

"These three new laws are against the farmers," said Sam Brar, who lives in Saddle Ridge.

"They're trying to bring in big corporations and kill all the smaller scale farming. The government won't even listen to them."

In Delhi, there have been clashes with authorities, who turned water cannons and tear gas on protestors trying to enter the city.

The new laws were introduced in September and change the rules around the sale, pricing and storage of produce.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the laws will let farmers set their own prices and allow them to sell crops to private businesses, ultimately giving them more freedom.

But farmers are worried it will leave them open to being exploited by corporations and devastate them financially. Until now, farmers relied on selling crops direct to the government at guaranteed prices. They're also angry the changes are being made in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To put the issue into context, more than half of India's 1.3 billion population is connected to agriculture and farming, so it's a huge issue for the country and involves a significant voter block.

Modi says he hopes what he calls transformative changes will attract more private investment to the industry, but farmers and their unions say it will make life much tougher.

"Farmers don't want any dealings with these big corporates. They marched toward Delhi in huge numbers and now the government have used force to stop them," said Brar. "Some have been beaten like animals."

A sign in support of protesting Indian farmers, taped to the back of a vehicle at a rally in Calgary. (Submitted by Jagpreet Singh Shergill)

Brar was one of many who attended at a socially distanced car rally that travelled in a convoy from the Genesis Centre in northeast Calgary into downtown on Sunday, waving flags and blasting horns.

"We want to raise our voice and add some pressure from here," he said.

"It felt really good. We thought 100 cars might come but it was more than 500 or 600 cars that gathered."

Some families in Calgary still own land in rural India and the change in laws has direct implications for them.

"The majority of people from Punjab, their background would be farming, and some people still have farming lands back home. They're worried in the future the corporations would take over the land and they would lose their land," said Harvinder Gill.

Cars travelled from northeast Calgary to downtown in a socially distanced rally to raise awareness of the farmers’ protests happening in India and show support by Calgary’s South Asian community. (Submitted by Jagpreet Singh Shergill)

Gill says the car rally and support being shown on social media in Calgary are an opportunity to pressure local politicians to raise awareness of the issue.

"They can talk to the Indian government," he said. "Help put pressure on them."

On Facebook, many Indians in Calgary have changed their profiles in support of the protests and added the popular #standwithfarmerschallenge hashtag to their social media accounts.

The Indian government has denounced comments made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in support of the farmers on Monday.

Trudeau called the Indian government response to the protests "concerning." 

Trudeau's comments were labelled as "ill-informed" by a foreign ministry spokesperson.