Nova Scotians slam ‘injustice’ facing farmers in India
Indian farmers say new agricultural rules favour big corporations, not them
December 17, 2020, 3:10 pm ASTLast Updated: December 17, 2020, 3:10 pm
The images of farmers struck with water cannons and tear gas as they marched towards New Delhi horrified Simardeep Hundal.
“We felt that they were dealt with injustice. They were just peacefully protesting, and the government attacked them brutally,” said Hundal, president of the Maritime Sikh Society.
That demonstration was in November, but there have been many clashes with security forces as thousands of farmers and their supporters protest changes implemented by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The government passed three controversial agriculture bills in the parliament on Sept. 20. These reforms deregulate the crop prices and facilitate farmers to sell their crops in an open market through a digital platform.
The government says the reforms empower and protect farmers in engaging with wholesalers, exporters and large retailers.
But the farmers and their families do not agree. There have been widespread protests in the states of Punjab and Haryana, with demonstrators arguing the new bills favour big corporations over the rights of individual farmers.
Vishal Bhardwaj, a mechanical engineer in Halifax, wonders why farmers were not consulted.
“Who would want to put their life at risk? We are in the middle of a pandemic. Had the government consulted them before, this could have been avoided,” said Bhardwaj.
The main concern of the farmers is the removal of the minimum support price that is guaranteed for their produce by the government.
There have been five rounds of failed negotiations between the government and farmers’ union leaders. The government has verbally agreed to maintain the minimum support price but has not made it law.
Farmers are also skeptical of the government’s intention to help them.
Buta Singh Bairagi, a lawyer and a farmer in Chandigarh, India, has been advocating for the rights of farmers.
“The malafide intention of the government is evident in the fact that they used the COVID-19 health emergency as an excuse to pass these ordinances as law in the parliament without consulting all the stakeholders,” Singh Bairagi said in an interview with The Signal in Hindi.
About 70 per cent of the total rural population depends on agriculture for their survival. The current agricultural structure of India needs reforms as the GDP contribution of agriculture has declined steadily over the years.
A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced his support for the democratic rights of the farmers to protest. It received harsh criticism from the Indian government and media.
But for the Indian community in Canada, it means a lot.
“I am very thankful to him for actually doing that because he is the only person in the whole big world who has the conscience to do it,” said Hundal.
The Maritime Sikh Society held a rally in Halifax on Dec. 5. Amrit Singh, a new immigrant in Canada, was there to show his solidarity with farmers in India.
“If there is a bomb blast anywhere, everyone would know. If there is an injustice, everyone should know,” Singh said.
Other solidarity rallies have been held in cities in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.
The National Farmers Union of Canada has extended its support to the farmers of India.
“Farmers did not ask for this reform, and it is not in their interest. The impacts will be devastating and far-reaching,” Katie Ward, NFU president, said in a news release.
The negotiations between the Indian government and the farmers’ unions are still at a deadlock. Tens of thousands of farmers are sitting at three entry points to New Delhi and demand a complete revocation of the new bills.
The Supreme Court of India allowed the protest by farmers to continue without impediment after a public interest litigation hearing on Thursday.
Have a story idea? Let us know