Sikh Winnipeggers relieved after Indian PM promises to repeal farm laws, but wariness remains
Protests against laws have lasted more than a year
Members of Winnipeg's Sikh community breathed a sigh of relief Friday after India's prime minister made the surprise announcement that his government would repeal three unpopular farming laws that have triggered more than a year of farmer protests.
Vineet Kaur Sidhu, a board member of Sikh Heritage Manitoba, is cautiously optimistic but isn't celebrating yet, because the Indian government has yet to follow through on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's promise.
"This is very close to home for someone like me," Sidhu said.
"My dad was a farmer. My uncles are farmers in India right now, sleeping on the streets to ensure that they are protesting."
Farmers have camped out in the capital, New Delhi, since November of last year to demand the withdrawal of the laws. Protests spread across the world, including in Winnipeg, with stickers appearing on vehicles bearing the slogan "No farmers, no food."
Opponents said the laws would end guaranteed pricing, forcing farmers to sell crops to corporations at cheaper prices, and would also leave them with no right to take disputes with those corporations to court, with bureaucrats settling disputes instead.
Modi has promised the laws will be repealed, beginning in December. The about-face comes after a year of protests that have seen violent confrontations between protesters and Indian police.
Farm leaders say more than 750 people have died.
Sikh Heritage Manitoba co-founder Imreet Kaur wants others to know how many people have lost their lives.
"We've seen grave human rights abuses at the protest site, which included social media blackout, cutting out of water supply and unlawful arrests of people," she said.
The Indian government says the laws were aimed at fixing the country's struggling agricultural sector, but opponents said they would have devastated small farmers by removing the guaranteed minimum price for their crops.
"We have to keep in mind that the farmers in India, especially in Punjab, have the highest rate of farmers suicide," Sidhu said.
The announcement came on the day of the Guru Purab festival, when Sikhs, who made up most of the protesters, celebrate the birthday of their founder, Guru Nanak.
The laws have particularly alienated the Sikh community, which makes up the majority of the population in Punjab, one of the states with upcoming elections.
Sidhu says protesters will remain in the streets until the laws are formally repealed.
"The announcement has been made that they will be repealed, and I think until that action occurs, there's still going to be this sense that this may not happen."
With files from Austin Grabish, Cameron MacLean and The Associated Press