Indian-Americans, a majority of them hailing from Punjab, held demonstrations in New York City last week, on Dec. 1 and Dec. 5, 2020, to express their support for farmers in India demanding a repeal of new reforms in the agricultural sector.
Thousands around the United States, from New York City to the Bay Area in California, and in Chicago, Seattle, and other cities also demonstrated urging the Indian government to revoke new pricing regulations for agricultural products recently introduced by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
According to those present at the New York City rally as well as video of the scene, more than 500 people gathered before the Indian Consulate Dec. 5, 2020, raising slogans. Another thousand of them were ensconced in their cars because of the parking problem, one person there told Desi Talk. The event culminated with a memorandum being presented to the Consul General of India in New York Randhir Jaiswal.
Reuters reported Dec. 5, that India‘s government failed to break a deadlock with farmers protesting over agricultural reforms and meeting was scheduled for midweek Dec. 9, to negotiate a settlement.
Thousands of Indian farmers have demonstrated against the new laws saying it would threaten their livelihoods. But New Delhi has maintained that the laws are meant to overhaul antiquated procurement procedures and gie growers more options to sell their produce.
However, farmers want the central government to purchase their products as it currently does under a regulated market system, so that earning are assured, instead of them having to negotiate prices with multinational corporations.
“Farmers made it clear to the ministers that they want the government to repeal the laws,” Jagjit Singh Dhalewal, a senior farmers’ leader, told Reuters Dec. 5.
Agriculture and farmers’ welfare minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters that talks will resume on Wednesday, adding the government is committed to farmers’ welfare and is keen to examine and consider the issues raised.
Agriculture constitutes nearly 15% of India‘s $2.9 trillion economy and employs around 50 percent of its 1.3 billion people, Reuters reported. Bhupinder Singh Boparai, president of the Sikh Cultural Society based in New York City, told Desi Talk, “The rally was for farmers in India. They ae getting killed with new regulations. Everyone is affected by the new regulations because there are so many other industries related to the growers, such as small business, merchants, dairy farmers.”
The Dec. 5 demonstration before the Indian Consulate was organized and led by Sikh Cultural Society, but Boparai clarified that all gurdwaras in the city and region were behind it. “It was the biggest rally of its kind against an unpopular policy in India,” Boparai claimed. “All the people felt the pain of the farmers in India. It is not only farmers in Punjab and Haryana, but also in Uttar Pradesh, South India, etc.,” he added.
“It was only a rally for farmers.This rally included Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, anyone with interest in farmers, anybody whose families in India are in the farming community,” Boparai said.
This view was seconded by local political leader in Queens, Harpreet Singh Toor, former president of Sikh Cultural Society, who has been at the forefront of naming two streets in Queens– Punjab Ave. and Gurdwara Street- under the initiative of New York City Councilmember Adrienne Adams.
“A majority of people’s intent in the New York demonstrations was to support the Indian farmers, including myself. It has nothing to do with being a Sikh or a farmer.”
Avtar Sherpuri, who described himself as a freelance journalist and who took a video of the Dec. 5 demonstration in front of the Indian Consulate in New York, told Desi Talk that the “majority were in support of the Indian farmers, pure and simple,” contended Sherpuri.
Meanwhile, car rallies were held in several other cities, including Chicago and in the Bay Area in California, in support of farmers and observing the COVID-19 pandemic protocols, unlike the hundreds who demonstrated before the Indian Consulate in New York.
In Chicago, on the day before the Dec. 4 rally, representatives from the Sikh Religious Society and other leaders, met the Indian Consul General Amit Kumar and presented him a memorandum urging New Delhi to revoke the new agricultural reforms. They also sent a resolution signed by more than 30 cultural and religious organizations of the Midwest United States, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to reverse course, Rajinder Singh Mago of the Punjabi Cultural Society, who met the Consul General, told Desi Talk.
Entitled, “USA (Midwest) – Joint Resolution – Protect the Rights of Farming Families – Revoke Farmers Act 2020, India” listed all the organizations supporting the letter, which described the new regulations as ‘extremely unfair and biased against the agricultural community, a direct hit at the small farmers’ livelihoods, to enrich and empower the large corporations.”
Desi Talk also procured a copy of the resolution sent by Midwest Indian American organizations, mostly formed of Punjabi and Sikh groups, which was sent to Prime Minister Modi.
The car rally in Chicago drove slowly on the road in front of the Indian Consulate, and according to Mago, there were about 100-plus cars. Lovedeep Singh Dulat, a local Chicago resident, along with Sikh Religious Society Palatine Gurdwara, Maharaja restaurant, and Khalsa Aid, helped with the logistics of food etc., as many of those attending came from Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois.
Dulat confirmed to Desi Talk that youth from Indiana started the initiative for the car rally, and he heard of it through his son.
The flyer from organizers – “SAVE OUR FARMERS, KISAAN RALLY TO CHICAGO.”
The flyer specified, “This rally is only & only for supporting farmers and nothing else” as if to pre-empt any other political groups from hijacking the event. The flyer detailed where to meet and how to proceed slowly in the cars before the Indian Consulate in North Cityfront Plaza Drive, warning all those participating to “wear a mask.”
Participants in the rally carried placards in support of Indian farmers, some of them saying, “No Farmer, No Food”.
The rally held in the Bay Area in California was organized by the Jakara Movement, which considers itself a grassroots group of largely Punjabis, Naindeep Singh, president of JM, told Desi Talk. Rallies were held in several cities
The “caravan protest” included motorcycles, semi-trucks and even tractors,” United Sikhs said in a press release.
One of them made up of an estimated 2,000 vehicles drove to the Indian Consulate in San Francisco before finishing with a raucous rally at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland, the press release said.
Demonstration were also held in Houston, TX, and Washington, D.C..
“Without farmers, there is no food. Without farming, there is no livelihood for the millions of people in Punjab who have relied on farming as a source of income for generations. These issues are deeply intertwined, and we will raise our voices to ensure that the families from Punjab who are putting their lives on the line to protest in Delhi can do so without facing threats from the Indian government,” said Naindeep Singh, executive director of the Jakara Movement, who helped organize the caravan and rally. He told Desi Talk the protests in India included farmers from many states not just Punjab and Haryana.
“Many of us have relatives at the Delhi protests,” he said, adding that people came to the Bay Area from as far as Arizona and Seattle. He hoped the Modi government would “engage in honest negotiations” with the farmers.