Hundreds of vehicles turned out for a car rally in the Lower Mainland on Wednesday in solidarity with Punjabi farmers protesting new agriculture laws in India.
Demonstrators and their cars and trucks decked out with signs and Canadian flags gathered at the Surrey Cineplex Strawberry Hill parking lot before making their way to the Indian consulate in downtown Vancouver.
Organizers said many B.C. residents have deep ties and connections to the farmers, who are have camped out on highways in the Punjab and Haryana states to demand that the new laws be scrapped.
“What they essentially do is they take power away from small farmers, placing it in the hands of the government themselves or larger corporations,” said Moninder Singh, rally organizer and spokesperson for the B.C. Gurdwara Council.
The farmers say the legislation could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices, and result in their exploitation by corporations that would buy their crops cheaply.
The Indian government insists the laws are part of much-needed reform in the agriculture sector, and will let farmers market their produce and increase production through private investment.
“What we end up with is farmers being misled, No. 1, but also marginalized to the point where they are at the mercy of larger corporations to be bought out,” Singh said.
“Smalltime farmers will lose their livelihoods, but also their farms, their land and be left pretty much destitute.”
Over the weekend, the situation escalated to clashes with police, who responded with tear gas, water cannons and baton charges around New Delhi.
The two sides held talks on Tuesday but were unable to reach common ground.
“If our families are struggling there, we can’t live here properly,” an emotional Parm Randawa told Global News.
“My brother-in-law, my nephew, they are sitting in the rallies almost two months now,” she said.
“We are so worried because (we all have families) back home and if we don’t win this fight, we’re going to be slaves (to the) Indian government.”
Singh said he hoped the show of solidarity would help pressure the Canadian government to speak up for the rights of protesting farmers.
– With files from the Canadian Press