Understanding the farmers protests in India through the Sikh diaspora
Ria Kalsi reminds us of how pressing the protests in India should be to all of us
Farmers have been protesting in India, some since the summer of 2020, for rights as workers, minorities, and most of all as humans.
The farming industry is the largest employer in India, with half of its 1.35 billion population being employed in agriculture. 7.4 per cent of all suicides in India are from the farming sector.
Something doesn’t add up.
Whilst a large part of these protests have been ignited by the three new laws that claim to transform the structure of the farming industry, the protests are rooted deeply in a history of civil unrest, disproportional nationalism and blatant hatred for communities, such as my own Sikh Punjabi community. As so much farming is based in the north of India where the Punjab resides, it has become the epicentre for Sikh Punjabi farmers, and it has continually been a walking target of Hindu Nationalist government like Narendra Modi’s, the current Indian Prime Minister. From the 1947 Partition to the 1984 genocide of the Sikhs to the protests of today, Sikhs have faced a tumultuous history with the situation of 2021 as nothing new. However, this time the world is watching, and the power of the internet is exposing the issue more.
The protests are rooted deeply in a history of civil unrest, disproportional nationalism and blatant hatred for communities, such as my own Sikh Punjabi community.Ria Kalsi
The Sikh and Punjabi communities and diasporas are working tirelessly despite life threatening consequences by the government. Nodeep Kaur is a name that should be on everyone’s minds. Kaur is a female Dilit labour rights activist who was arrested on January 12 2021, and is still in custody for alleged attempted murder, assault and rioting despite video evidence of self-defence – videos which are now being manipulated to be used against her. Meena Harris, a U.S. lawyer, author and activist brought attention to this issue including potential sexual assault and torture by the police. The denial and lack of coverage of this issue is representative of India’s undeniable rape culture. When you search Nodeep online or check the news, Western media is nowhere to be seen.
The fact that Harris’ Aunt, Kamala, has just become the Vice President of America is proof of the power of women of colour in government. I struggle to believe as much attention would have been drawn to this issue if the new Vice President was, say, a white male.
When you search Nodeep online or check the news, Western media is nowhere to be seen.Ria Kalsi
Community is a pillar of Sikh Punjabi culture and now so more than ever. Not only are these the largest protests in history, but the community of diaspora joining together with our homeland amplifies that hugely. There is an abundance of power here, but there needs to be a greater push from those with power, platforms and privilege. Unfortunately, our greatest example of this, our own Prime minister, when asked about the protests thought that the protests were for the Indian Pakistan conflict. Johnson had no clue about them, despite Sikh Slough Labour MP, Tan Dhesi raising it with him and working to gain traction.
Observing rather than acting is a privilege.
It is terrifying to see in the west, such a lack of coverage but more so, a lack of understanding of the history, the rooting and a cultural understanding which convolutes the issue. There is inundated gratitude for Rihanna’s and Greta Thumberg’s part to play in the publicity of the protests. Though there should be a questioning of our media in the UK for when MP Tan Dhesi was gathering political support, publicity and governmental action back in December, there was no one to champion this.
Whilst a British public might see a man in a turban, a symbol with a stereotyped past, the Sikh diaspora sees kindness, seva and community. We see our fathers, uncles, brothers, mothers, aunts, sisters. They might not look like you, speak or act like you, but they are still humans.
And undeniably, this is a human rights issue.