This announcement came on Gurpurab, a Sikh holiday that celebrates the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh faith.
The three laws essentially sought to remove the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis and allow farmers to sell produce directly to buyers. The laws were marketed by the government as a way to increase bargaining power for farmers and expand the agricultural market for innovation.
Without government regulation in the agricultural system, these laws would leave farmers vulnerable to the exploitative practices of big corporations.
When news broke last week, I remember seeing someone repost a picture from the protests captioned “Farmers Laws Repealed!” and immediately thinking it was a hoax or misinformation. Then, my phone blew up. Messages from friends poured in, rejoicing at this monumental win for our community. Before I knew it, people were out on Scott Road waving flags, dancing and rejoicing in this victory for our community.
I went on Twitter and watched intently as the Prime Minister of India explained his intention to repeal the laws, a gift to Sikhs (who make up a large majority of protesters) on Gurpurab day, he said.
People were quick to point out the strategic timing of this announcement. With the upcoming election looming in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (two states who are greatly affected by the farm laws), many suggested that the Indian government must have ulterior motives. Others even claimed that because the laws must go through the repeal process in Parliament, our celebrations may be premature, or ill-informed.
Many farmers on the front lines are refusing to leave their post until the repeals go through due process, in the fear that this announcement is a gimmick. Rakesh Tikait, leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, said that he views this repeal as a way out of guaranteeing a Minimum Support Price (MSP), which provides a small amount of economic security from the government.
I, for one, felt the joy and skepticism all at once. Reflecting on the events of the last year, I thought about how we have witnessed one of the most powerful displays of grit and resilience against a fascist government who wished to push farmers further into turmoil.
Every week since the protests began, there were at least a handful of people protesting on Scott Road in Surrey, holding signs that read, “No Farmers, No Food”.
For many in the diaspora, protesting in local communities, donating, and reposting videos and images felt like the only thing we could do.
The protest itself became a beautiful exemplification of resilience and kindness. Khalsa Aid was on the ground, providing support to protesters. A makeshift school for underprivileged children was created in the protests themselves. Protesters took shifts teaching students in English, Punjabi and Hindi.
Individuals like Dr. Swaiman Singh, uprooted his life in New Jersey, flew to India and created a clinic to provide support to farmers. Singh provided medical support, food, and many other resources to farmers, building a community of over 100 volunteers to support in the process.
The movement gained even more traction, particularly when the Indian government began to brutally attack peaceful protesters in Delhi—many of whom were elders.
Disturbing images of protesters being tear gassed and beaten in the streets sent shock waves through our community.
In October, news of the junior home minister’s son Ashish Mishra running over a group of protesters made headlines. The Indian government made their disregard for farmers’ lives explicitly clear. At present, the death count from the farmer’s protest is estimated to exceed 700. With the gravity of this situation in mind, it’s impossible to process news of repeal without experiencing feelings of grief and loss.
It’s hard not to feel like it should not have taken this much loss and pain to get here. It’s difficult to commemorate the small “win,” without feeling that our elders deserved better in their old age.
Ultimately, farmers were fighting against laws that made an already broken system considerably more unjust and inequitable. The existing system is deeply broken, with a history of crippling farmer debts and an alarming rate of farmer suicide in states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
The magnitude and impact of these protests cannot be understated. It has demonstrated that the power of our people is mighty enough to spark change within the Indian government.
So, with both feet on the ground it is important that we celebrate -- that we appreciate this moment as one victory on the road to many others. To celebrate this win gives our community the strength to fight the many more battles likely coming our way.
The agricultural system in India is still in need of massive reform. MSP still is not guaranteed. Many protesters and political activists have been wrongfully imprisoned, including Jagtar Johal of the U.K.
With the momentum of this win, we need to continue to fight for the issues that matter to us. Those of us in the diaspora who harbour immense privileges that those on the front lines do not, particularly hold a unique responsibility. There is no doubt that we are deeply tied to these movements, but we do not live them in the same way that farmers in Punjab do.
At the end of a long day, we have the luxury of being able to rest in the safety of our homes. We have the freedom to speak openly about these issues without fear of persecution or censorship from our government.
Protesters on the front lines, however, are required to eat, sleep and breathe these movements in a way we may never truly understand.
Out of respect for this level of resilience and dedication, it is our responsibility to do more -- to mobilize, and to provide support to those on the front lines in as many ways as we can imagine.
Our commitment to do more can help sustain the movements our people fight so hard for. Our drive reinforces the Sikh principles that gave life to these protests, principles of seva and langar that are woven into the physical environment of the protests themselves.
Harsha Walia argues that “in a country marred by growing capitalist privatization, imperial ambitions, Hindutva fascism, and patriarchal and caste oppression, these seeds of co-resistance cannot be underestimated.”
The ways we oppose injustice in all forms, from all around the globe speaks to the rich history of which our people are a living monument of.
Still, it’s important that we keep the knowledge of political tactics in the back of our mind as the repeal process unfolds, to remain skeptical but steadfast in our beliefs.
There’s still so much work to be done.
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