With longstanding links to land and cultivation, B.C. farmers have been watching the protests in India with heartbreak and concern over the fate of their family and friends on the front lines.
“They’re sleeping on the streets right now,” Kelowna farmer Jadvinder Singh Nijjer said, adding he’s in regular contact with his niece who lives near Dehli.
His niece, Navneet Chahal, is a lawyer by profession and a photographer by passion.
She’s been joining the farmers daily documenting how thousands remain camped on the borders of the nation’s capital, after travelling nearly 370 kilometres in less than two days to get there two weeks ago.
Most of the protesters she spoke to are between 60 and 80 years of age; all hard-working farmers who depend on this work for their livelihood, she said.
“The resolve with which they’ve come, to look at their dedication, their commitment, their stand, it’s extremely overwhelming, super emotional,” Chahal told Global News.
“I don’t think a day goes by that you don’t come back crying when you’re there it’s that overwhelming.”
Seva, which means selfless service, is a key pillar of Punjabi culture, Chahal said, and the farmers she spoke with are staying true to that standard, even offering food to the police officers, who they say hurt them.
“They feed the police hoping that someday they start thinking like we do. They say even if you do your duties, we don’t hold things against you, so it is our duty to offer it to you because we offer it to everybody,” she said.
“It’s true to what the Punjabi spirit is.”
India has one of the highest rates of farmer suicides in the world, often driven by debt. The decades-long problem has hit a boiling point.
The Indian government’s recently-passed agriculture laws are widely perceived by protesting farmers as unjust, eliminating what many consider their minimum wage.
But the Indian government has argued the laws will improve farmers’ incomes, giving them a wider market to sell to.
The use of brute force by police, who have deployed tear gas, barbed-wire barricades and batons on peaceful protesters, has drawn international condemnation, including from Canada’s Prime Minister.
“There’s no reason why they should be treated this way,” Chahal said. “It’s sad. I’m ashamed of my country.”
With another round of talks with the government having failed to bring the standoff to an end on Wednesday, the farmers are threatening to intensify their protest with more national disruptions.
“Some of them have literally made the statement, ‘We’ve written to our families saying if we don’t come back, remember we fought,'” Chahal said.
Farmers, who came prepared to camp outside in protest for several months, are vowing to hold their ground until the laws are revoked, no matter the price.