Explainer: The farmers’ protest in Delhi

How a movement in India has gained mass support in Canada

Protestors in Vancouver voice their support for farmers in India. (Love Sandhu)

In protest of newly passed farming legislation, millions of protestors from India’s Northern States of Punjab and Haryana have made their way to the country’s capital of Delhi. The two states are considered the breadbasket of the country and both have largely agrarian-based economies.

The farmers are protesting against the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce Act, Farm Services Act, and Essential Commodities Act.

Agitation amongst farmers began in September when the bills were first introduced, but when they were officially pushed through as law both Punjab and Haryana erupted in protest.

The new policies rid the farming industry of hoarding laws, which made it illegal for large corporations to hoard produce. Now, with the ability to hoard, large corporations could potentially stockpile crops — reducing the demand for farmer produce and force farmers to sell at a low price in upcoming years.

Farmers rely on a minimum set price for their produce to ensure they receive fair compensation, even in drought and famine years. But the new laws do not include any legislation which ensures an MSP to farmers. It’s this omission, and the detrimental impact it could have on future sales and prices, that has farmers so upset.

Farmers are looking to have the laws repealed in their entirety, or an amendment be made to them which guarantees farmers an MSP. They are also expressing discontent with the government for passing legislation that directly impacts farmers without consulting with farmer unions.

As of yet the central government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has refused to engage in discussion with protest leaders unless they cease protesting. Protestors have brought supplies and have set up camp at different areas around the capital.

Images of police brutality have been shared over social media and have resulted in mass general support for the protestors, especially among diaspora Punjabi communities. The movement has prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP federal party leader Jagmeet Singh, and Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan to express their concern for protestors.

In a recent Townhall commemorating Gurpurab, a much-celebrated Sikh holiday, Trudeau said, “Canada will always defend the right for people to peacefully protest.” In addition to high ranking politicians supporting the protestors, there have also been multiple protests across British Columbia’s Fraser Valley through grassroots community organization.

“It’s not just an ‘over there’ issue,” says Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, a sessional instructor of history and Coordinator of the South Asian Studies Institute at The University of the Fraser Valley.

The Fraser Valley is one of the most farmed regions in Canada. Since its earliest settlements to present day, farming has been a large part of the region’s identity.

Farmer activism also has roots in the Fraser Valley. Up to 80 per cent of farmworkers in the region were Punjabi in the 1970s and in 1980, B.C. farmers formally unionized. Since then they have used their collective bargaining power to advocate for the collection of unpaid wages, speak out against racism, and fight for adequate working conditions for farmworkers.

But Sandhra says that this movement isn’t simply the result of one farming policy — India saw nationwide protests in the months leading up to the pandemic over proposed amnesty policies which discriminate against Muslim refugees, and would remove citizenship status from many Muslims living in India, or designate them as ilegal migrants.

Prior to that, people were protesting when Modi removed Kashmir’s special status and put the disputed territory on a widespread lockdown, which included removing access to the internet and shuttering schools.

“That’s why you’re seeing a lot of solidarities,” says Sandhra. “It isn’t just all these people fighting because they’re upset about one policy —  it’s a built up, pent up frustration of just being so marginalized, being so hurt, being so erased that they’ve literally taken by the millions to the streets.”