Demonstrators parade in trucks and dump trucks in support of farmers in India during a protest in Toronto Dec. 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Canadian Sikhs worry for families in India as farm protests turn violent

Canadian Sikhs worry for families in India as farm protests turn violent

For several days, Karan Singh has been frantically checking the latest news from India where his father and other farmers have been demanding the government repeal new agriculture laws that open more space for private investors.

The 25-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., says concern for his father — who farms cotton, wheat and sugar cane in India’s northern Punjab state — started in September. That’s when Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced three bills that farmers say will reshape agriculture in the region, and Singh’s father and friends joined protests.

One of the bills allows farmers to forge deals with companies to produce a certain amount and to sell their crops directly to private buyers instead of to the Indian government at a regulated price.

Modi’s government argues the new laws will bring growth. But smaller farmers like Singh’s dad fear that the removal of state protections that they already consider insufficient will leave them at the mercy of greedy corporations.

Singh says his stress peaked two days ago when Modi’s government shut down internet in parts of New Delhi where protesters were gathering. Singh lost touch with his father and friends for about two hours as they made their way to India’s capital.

“It was really critical hours,” Singh said about the wait while protesters on horses and tractors stormed India’s historic Red Fort. They broke through police barricades into the nearly 400-year-old landmark after weeks of peaceful sit-ins and rallies — a deeply symbolic act that revealed their determination in challenging Modi’s government.

“I didn’t know where he was. I was worried and praying that hopefully those that I know will not be there in harm,” Singh said.

“Then there was a news that there was a death of one of the farmers in the protest and I was sad and couldn’t focus on work.”

It turned out his father was a few kilometres away and was safe. He has since returned to his farm, away from the protests, Singh said.

Canadian Sikhs with family in India say they are worried about the brewing tension in the country during a global pandemic.

“Sikhs are a significant part of our communities and a lot of our volunteers have family in India. We have volunteers in India as well, who are working with the farmers,” Jindi Singh, national director of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said from his home in Victoria.

“What we’ve seen is that the police presence has increased exponentially, so there is increased concern about safety.”

Since the protests began, videos have emerged of police hitting farmers with water cannons, releasing tear gas and beating them with batons. Negotiations between farmers and the Indian government have been in a deadlock.

In late November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke in support of Punjabi farmers and said his government had reached out to Indian authorities to highlight concerns.

Canadians must do more to pressure the federal government to continue doing that, said Jindi Singh.

“On a Friday night, if you’re having butter chicken and basmati rice, if this morning you got up and you had a turmeric latte, if on the weekend you’re going to cook and you’re going to use Indian spices … all of those items have come from an Indian farmer.”

Sikhs across Canada have been holding weekly protests in solidarity with the farmers.

“The thing is, we physically are here in Canada, but emotionally we are still in those struggles because, as a son of a farmer, you can feel the pain,” Karan Singh said.

“Agriculture is not a job that we do. Agriculture is also our culture. It’s a part of who we are.”

— With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story; a previous version attributed the last quote to Jindi Singh.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Central Alberta Freestyle Ski Club is hoping to win $50,000 through the Mackenzie Investments Top Peak contest. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta ski club trying to win $50K in online contest

A central Alberta ski club has entered a contest where it can… Continue reading

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

Mount Pearl Senior High in Mount Pearl, N.L., remains closed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The provincial health authority says there were 185 cases at 22 schools, including 145 infections among staff and students of one high school in Mount Pearl that was an early epicentre of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
In Newfoundland and Labrador, three ingredients made for explosive COVID-19 outbreak

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — With her classes, three part-time jobs and a… Continue reading

A passenger places a tag on luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and familial connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Rail cars wait for pickup in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 23, 2014. The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian oil and gas on trains destined for the United States — a country experts fear is ill-equipped for the potential consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
As debate rages over cross-border pipelines, U.S. analysts brace for more oil by rail

WASHINGTON — The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian… Continue reading

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

VICTORIA — Legal experts and a mother whose ex-partner was convicted of… Continue reading

Radio and television personality Dick Smyth is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Dick Smyth, Canadian maestro of news radio commentary, dies at 86

TORONTO — Radio and television personality Dick Smyth, whose booming commentary filled… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

Most Read