One year of Indian farmers’ protests prompts B.C. activists to renew call for solidarity

Click to play video: 'City of Vancouver passes motion of solidarity with Indian farmers'
City of Vancouver passes motion of solidarity with Indian farmers
The City of Vancouver has passed a motion to support the Indian farmers in their protests. Sonia Sunger talks to councillor Jean Swanson who put the motion forward. – Apr 5, 2021

Every night for the last 11 months, Mandip Kharod has been standing on the corner of Scott Road and 72 Avenue in Surrey, B.C., in solidarity with Indian farmers who continue to protest against that country’s contentious changes to its agricultural laws.

Kharod said she feels a whirlwind of emotions when she reflects on the one-year mark of the protests approaching.

“(I’m) absolutely baffled that this could be ongoing for so long. In what human-rights realm is that acceptable?” she told Global News.

Click to play video: 'The global movement in support of protesting farmers in India'
The global movement in support of protesting farmers in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government passed a trio of bills in September 2020 that farmers say will destroy their livelihoods.

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Two months later, it triggered a massive nationwide strike and a march of tens of thousands of farmers to the capital city of New Delhi on Nov. 26. The demonstrations have continued ever since, escalating to violent clashes at times and the deaths of roughly 600 people.

Attention on the issue remains, Kharod added, but it can become out of sight, out of mind for some.

Dupinder Kaur Saran, who helped organize several rallies in the Lower Mainland in support of the farmers, agreed and called out the political response at home.

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“We need our government’s stance to be stronger. I think when it comes to the one-year mark, we would really like to signify that Canada stands up for human rights, and we need that support on a local level,” she said.

Gurpreet Singh helped organize a protest outside the Indian visa and passport application office on Oct. 8 in response to violence erupting in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district. Nine people were killed, including four farmers, when a convoy of vehicles ran over demonstrators.

“People are outraged and angry. Some kind of international pressure needs to be built,” Singh said.

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

Surrey-Newtown MP Sukh Dhaliwal recently condemned the Oct. 3 killings as a terrorist attack. But asked if his government would take concrete action in response, he was short on details.

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“Parliament is going to sit probably next month,” Dhaliwal said. “We’ll see how things go and we’ll continue to discuss issues that are important to the people.”

Meanwhile, plans are underway in the community to mark the anniversary of the protests next month, including by South Asian youth who have a strong connection to their roots in India.

Manroop Sandhu, a Grade 9 student at Surrey’s L.A. Matheson Secondary, told Global News that her leadership class will put up a visual timeline of the farmers’ protests in the school’s hallways to raise awareness.

“My grandpa was a farmer. He was the one who gave my father the opportunity to come to Canada,” the teen said. “That money came from the crops that he sold. That’s why it is so important to me. I wouldn’t have been here otherwise.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. Indo-Canadian artist has Twitter account suspended in India'
B.C. Indo-Canadian artist has Twitter account suspended in India

Kharod, who is part of the Kisaan Sleep Out organization, said a protest will also be held at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Nov. 26, followed by a march to the Indian Consulate on Howe Street where a sleep out will take place.

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She said the spirit of the farmers is what keeps her committed to the movement.

“I am sad that [the farmers] have to do this, but also in absolute awe that they have such conviction. That they are able to protest with such strength and resiliency.”

– with files from the Associates Press

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