Calgary councillors and MPs join Sikh community to support farmer protest in India

The uprising of India's farmers: What's behind the protests?

Two Calgary councillors and the city’s mayor are raising their voices in support of farmers in India protesting changes to how agricultural products are sold in that country.

“Many Calgarians, myself included, have personal connections to farmers in India and are deeply committed to ensuring they are treated fairly,” Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal said Monday.

“Councilor Gondek and I want to raise awareness of what’s happening in India.”

Farmers in that country are protesting market reforms they fear will leave them poorer. Those protests have been met with tear gas, batons and water cannons.

Read more: Here’s why farmers in India are protesting and why Canadians are concerned

Protesters have used tractors, trucks and boulders to block highways across the country, and authorities have deployed thousands of security forces, mainly outside India’s capital where farmers have camped out in three main sites for more than two months.

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“Everyone in Calgary’s Sikh community knows someone directly impacted by the farmer’s peaceful protest,” Amanpreet Gill, president of Calgary’s Dashmesh Cultural Centre, told Global News. “And they’re worried about their safety.”

Click to play video: 'India farmer protests: Support grows as thousands rally in Uttar Pradesh against new laws' India farmer protests: Support grows as thousands rally in Uttar Pradesh against new laws
India farmer protests: Support grows as thousands rally in Uttar Pradesh against new laws – Feb 5, 2021

According to Statistic Canada, 1.3 million Indians call Canada home, and Calgary is home to a 70,000-large Sikh community. Gill said a majority of the community has agricultural backgrounds.

“They’ve still got their loved ones, their family members or their friends — they’re still farmers back home,” Gill said.

“Everyone is concerned.”

Most of the protesting farmers in India are from the northern Punjab and Haryan states, the two biggest agricultural producers in the country.

Click to play video: 'India farmer protests: Trudeau says Canada will ‘always stand up’ for peaceful protests' India farmer protests: Trudeau says Canada will ‘always stand up’ for peaceful protests
India farmer protests: Trudeau says Canada will ‘always stand up’ for peaceful protests – Dec 4, 2020

“Deregulation of agricultural markets in the manner that India is proposing will have global impacts,” Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek said.

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“Without market principles of fairness for agricultural producers, large corporations with no accountability for social responsibility will jeopardize food security on a global scale.”

Read more: ‘Unacceptable’: India warns Trudeau his remarks on farmers’ protests may hurt bilateral ties

According to Gill, Dashmesh has 16,000 active members with a majority from Punjab state. But now Calgarians with roots from across India are getting behind the protests.

Conversations about the plight of Indian farmers began in Calgary in November 2020, just a couple of months after a trio of bills were passed by Narendra Modi’s government. Not long after, the southern Alberta Sikh community began to gather supplies to send to India.

“Supplies are urgently needed because the government has cut off supply routes to the farmers,” Gill said, noting many of the farmers protesting are elderly and have been sleeping unsheltered in during the months-long protests.

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A pair of Calgary MPs, a pair of Edmonton-area MPs and a pair of B.C. MPs also penned a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau on Monday, exhorting the minister to formally speak with his Indian counterpart about the Indian government’s treatment of protesting farmers.

“Canada has an opportunity to show leadership on the international stage and use its diplomatic role in supporting human rights and democracy,” the letter read.

Click to play video: 'Ongoing protests in India' Ongoing protests in India
Ongoing protests in India – Feb 5, 2021

In December 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was concerned about the farmers protesting in India.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi recognized the country as an “important trading partner” with Canada and Calgary, noting a trade mission he and Coun. Chahal went on nearly a year ago, before the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more: Farmers’ unions call for nationwide shutdown in India over new agriculture laws

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The mayor also said part of Calgary’s economic development work included agribusiness and agrifood.

“The City of Calgary stands with farmers here and we stand with farmers in other parts of the world who are working so hard to make sure that seven billion people get fed,” Nenshi said Monday.

Gill said he hopes the calls for justice from Canada’s Indian population are heard by their governments.

“These humanitarian violations — we request the Canadian government, the U.N. and government agencies around the world to pressure the Indian government to stop the violence.”

–with files from the Associated Press, Reuters

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