Yellowknife demonstration voices opposition to Indian farm laws

Demonstrators drove in a motorcade through Yellowknife in a show of support for protests against agricultural reform bills in India.

Demonstrators drove in motorcade through town in show of support for Indian protests

Protesters line up for a photo before hitting the road for a motorcade through Yellowknife. Members of the city's Indian diaspora gathered to show support for farmers' protests that have grown in India over the past several weeks. (John Last/CBC)

On a frigid Saturday afternoon in Yellowknife, members of the city's Indian diaspora community gathered at Somba K'e park for a motorized protest through the streets of Yellowknife.

Over the course of an hour, more than two dozen vehicles took part in a procession through Yellowknife's downtown, out to its airport, and back toward the city centre.

The drivers and their passengers were protesting against a trio of new agricultural reform bills made half a world away, in India, which they said would endanger the livelihood of relatives and friends.

"I think with these new bills … the [majority] population of India is being exploited," said Ranjog Virk, one of the organizers of Saturday's event.

For months, farmers in India and their supporters have been blockading highways in protest against the Indian government's attempts to deregulate the farming sector.

The laws do away with government pricing and subsidies, lift restrictions on hoarding essential crops, and make it harder for farmers to take private companies to court.

The motorcade winds its way past the post office in downtown Yellowknife. About 24 vehicles took part in the demonstration. (John Last/CBC)

"In India, 67 per cent of people are directly or indirectly … involved in farming," Virk explained. 

Virk fears the laws, which the government says will make the sector more efficient, will actually allow price manipulation by large, private companies with the capacity to store essential crops.

"In India, mostly, farmers have very small [properties], and they have huge loans on their lands," said Virk. "In the end, they will end up losing all their farms to the private companies."

"I come from a farming background. My father is a farmer, my grandfather is a farmer," he said. "So I know all these problems that farmers are facing right now."

Farmers have been blockading highways in India for months over fears new agricultural reforms will reduce their earnings and will result in exploitation by corporations, eventually rendering them landless. (Altaf Qadri/The Associated Press)

At Saturday's event, more than a few of those present could claim similar connections back home.

"I'm the son of a farmer," said Amar Bar Singh. "That's why I'm here to support them."

"Sixty per cent of the population in the Punjab are farmers," said Akashdeep Singh, another demonstrator. "They're all farmers. Their livelihood, their children, their future, it all depends on farming."

Others pointed to the use of tear gas and water cannons by police on protesting farmers, and took issue with the Indian media's portrayal of the protests.

"They beat them, they threw … tear gas on them while they were protesting peacefully," said Nawab Singh. "I want the government to apologize for this thing in front of the whole world."

Yellowknife's Indian diaspora is not alone in organizing shows of support for the farmers' cause. Similar demonstrations have been held across the country and around the world.

Elsewhere in the North, a protest in Whitehorse is scheduled for Sunday at 11 p.m. in the city's Shipyards Park.

With files from Marc Winkler