A Sikh farmer protesting the farm laws in India's Harayana state in 2020. (Pradeep Gaurs / Shutterstock)

Impact of repealed farm laws in India felt all the way in Burnaby

"Whatever happens in Punjab affects us because our loved ones are there."

By Simran Singh | November 22, 2021 |5:00 am

On Thursday evening, Burnaby resident and former school board trustee Baljinder Narang was in shock after the Indian government announced it would repeal three contentious farm laws that sparked massive international protests over the past year.

“Honestly, at first I thought it was fake news,” Narang told the Beacon. “And then we actually tuned in to listen to the broadcast coming as breaking news … and it started sinking in.”

During that broadcast, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he wanted to “make a fresh start” with the farmers of India.

“In the Parliament session starting later this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three agricultural laws, said Modi in his national address.

Modi made the announcement on the day of Gurpurab, the day that Sikhs around the world celebrate the birth of the faith’s founder, Guru Nanak. Sikhs made up a large number of the farmers protesting. The news also came ahead of important elections in states like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

The announcement prompted celebrations across the world—from the villages of Punjab in India to the streets of Surrey. The news made an impact on Burnaby residents like Narang as well.

“It was incredible because we kind of thought this is never going to end, because it’s been going on for nearly a year now. And I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

For months, thousands of farmers predominantly from Punjab, Haryana, and Utter Pradesh states mobilized in mass peaceful demonstrations against the three farm laws that were passed in September 2020.

The laws allowed large corporations to have control in India’s agriculture sector, meaning farmers would be able to sell their goods beyond the state-regulated system, where they were guaranteed a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their crops.

Farmers were concerned this would gravely impact their livelihoods because it put them at risk of competition from larger businesses, and could push them further into debt and poverty.

The demonstrations spread across the globe, including here in Metro Vancouver, where the region’s large Punjabi-Sikh diaspora has a strong connection to farming, as many come from a long lineage of farmers back home.

Narang said that although she doesn’t come from a farming community herself, the plight of the farmers hits close to home. And while the repealing of the laws comes as something to celebrate, the world should not turn away from the actions of the Indian government.

“We know so many of our friends and family who are from the farming communities, who have their loved ones there [or] half of their families here, the rest of their families back there [in India]. And as a community, we value our land, value our farmers, and we have a tremendous faith in the integrity of what our Punjabi farmers are doing,” she said.

“I think it’s important to pay attention because the farmers’ protest has highlighted two things: One is that it has demonstrated to the world that if the cause is worth fighting for, that people will come out and they will form alliances. … And I think the other thing that I think we have to be cognizant of is that trust has been shaken. We, as a community, as a country … Indians are now questioning the trust that they place in their leaders.”

Over the past year, it’s believed that over 700 farmers died during the protests in India. And well before the protests, a suicide crisis has been destroying the lives of farmers and their families. According to a CBC report, India’s farming community averages 28 suicides per day.

The Indian government won’t start the official process to repeal the laws until the new session in parliament begins at the end of November and protest leaders have said they will continue demonstrating until they are promised MSP for key crops. 

“I think the first step is great, we need to celebrate. But is it resolved? No, we have a long way to go,” said Narang.

“Whatever happens in Punjab affects us because our loved ones are there. And even if we don’t have loved ones there …. our attachment to it is … it’s beyond words.”

Simran Singh

Managing Editor at Burnaby Beacon

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