The Sikhs around the world, who encourage foreign governments to intercede with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are drawing support from thousands of Indian farmers demonstrating against the deregulation of agricultural markets.
Since last month, farmers, mainly from the Sikh-dominated state of Punjab, have been camped on the outskirts of New Delhi, demanding that Modi roll back the reforms expected to introduce money into the old-fashioned agriculture sector, but which farmers fear would leave them at the mercy of large corporations.
In the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, Sikhs living abroad, most of whom have families at home connected to farms, have taken up the thread, demonstrating outside Indian embassies to gain notice.
Rajbir Singh, who runs a small transport company in Melbourne, said that 250 to 300 Sikhs and other overseas Indians took part in a rally in the Melbourne district on Thursday to demonstrate their support for Indian farmers.
People of Indian descent intend to carry out similar protests near the state parliament of Victoria in Melbourne on Saturday, said computer scientist Siftnoor Singh.
“The new laws will devastate our motherland economically, and we can’t just close our eyes and pretend it’s all right back home,” he told Reuters by phone.
The concern of farmers is that the government aims to undermine the existing markets where their rice and wheat are guaranteed a minimum price by encouraging companies such as Walmart and India’s Reliance Industries Ltd’s retail arm to buy directly from farmers.
There are an estimated 12 million Sikhs and other Indian Punjabis overseas. They form a closely knit collective and are vociferous in sharing the community’s issues back home.
Diaspora participants have marched in protest marches, usually comprising of 400 to 600 people, in nearly 50 different cities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, protestors and their families said after the farmers’ protest began more than two weeks ago in India.
The government has refused to comment on the overseas demonstrations. But New Delhi summoned Canada’s ambassador this month to express anger after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the farmers had a right to demonstrate, underlining India’s aversion to what it sees as international intervention in its domestic affairs.
‘Hand that feeds you’
Samantha Ratnam, parliamentary leader of Australia’s Victorian Greens Party, recently told the state legislative council that I have been contacted by several concerned individuals of Indian origin who are based in Victoria to talk about the issue.
Even in the small town of Canton, Michigan, in the United States, farmers’ relatives and supporters gathered this month bearing placards reading “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” and “I stand with farmers.”
A rally outside the Indian embassy in Washington was staged by other protestors.
In Canada, home to a politically powerful Sikh minority, people of Indian descent have pledged to step up their support for the protesting farmers of India.
“Amanpreet Singh Grewal, a resident of Brampton, Ontario, Canada, said We are taking part in daily demonstrations to bring it to the attention of local officials who can help us strengthen our voices. “In India, we are committed to supporting our farmers.”
Many Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) own Punjab farmlands and fear the sweeping reforms that would economically damage them through the government plans.
Avtar Singh Gill, 64, who is now settled in Punjab after four decades in the UK, said: ‘Punjabi NRIs are worried that if these laws are applied and result in a decline in crop procurement rates, it will lead to a big drop in the valuation of their farm land and annual profits from land contracts.
Mewa Singh, president of the NRI council in Punjab’s Ropar district, said organisations such as his serving overseas Indians were helping farmers organise people in villages, organising transportation for them and collecting milk and rations for the supply of sleeping outdoor protesters near Delhi.
Singh said his uncle, the manager of the Houston, Texas, basketball team, was leading the demonstrations there.
“We can’t allow Prime Minister Modi to take away what, through hard work and political struggle, we have gained over the years,” Mewa Singh said.
Sikh organisations maintain power in Britain and have argued for British politicians to discuss the issue with their Indian counterparts even though the Modi government baulks at such intervention.
Jas Singh, a Sikh Foundation advisor, said the group had written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, to advocate their cause.
“We have also reached out to the United Nations to ask India to protect farmers’ right to peaceful protests, worried about the use of disproportionate force against many elderly protesters,” Jas Singh said.