Why Sikh activists protesting for farmers’ rights in India continue to inspire me

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Activists are bringing attention to how specific agricultural policies reinforce the caste view of farmers.

Since I was a kid, I was told to be proud of being Punjabi, be proud of being Sikh and that it is in our blood to stick up for what we believe in. Thus, to me, it is no wonder we are seeing Sikh activists leading the movement for farmers’ rights in India.

Protests emerged after Narendra Modi’s government has implemented agricultural laws that are restrictive to Indian farmers. These laws do not guarantee a legal minimum price and allow rich capitalists to take advantage of the average, local farmer by not paying them their worth. The Indian parliament rushed to pass three bills regarding these policies without consulting any farmer’s unions, which has led to frustration for the local farmers in India and a call to repeal those bills.

Sikh farmers were the first to spread awareness of the harms these bills would cause to farmers all over India. A lot of Sikhs have remained skeptical of Modi and his government, considering he is a Hindu nationalist. Since Sikh farmers began to protest against the harmful policies passed, Modi’s government has tried to portray the farmers protesting in the same light as the Khalistan movement in the 1980s. However, this tactic has not worked as Sikh activists called out the government on their actions and ended up gaining global support.

As a Sikh, I find the farmers’ protests to be important for an infinite number of reasons. First off, the fact it is being led by Sikhs matters so much within itself because of the way the Indian government has nodded off Sikhs in the past. For so long, the Indian government has not taken the Sikhs of Punjab seriously, and this cause is bringing global attention to that treatment.

These protests also matter in reminding the world how important our farmers are. I have an immense amount of pride in being Punjabi and I would not be here if it weren’t for the farmers in my family making sure everyone was fed. Farmers are indeed the backbone of our society for the simple fact that we would not have food without them, thus we would not be able to survive as a species.

The farmers’ protests have also brought attention to casteism in post-colonial India. Despite the caste system being outdated, Modi’s Hindu nationalism has led to policies that reinforce classist barriers. Activists are bringing attention to how these specific agricultural policies reinforce the caste view of farmers.

Farmers have long been taken for granted in India, and as policies are passed that exploit them, they feel the harshest effects of classism. According to the India’s National Crime Records Bureau, a farmer commits suicide every 41 minutes. These numbers have been steady since 1994, and many activists link those numbers to casteism in India. On a global scale, the protests bring awareness to how capitalism increases division through classism. These farmers are demanding to be paid what they deserve for their work, rather than be exploited by the rich, which is a demand that people feel for across the world.

Baljit Kaur and Kulwinder Kaur have not only brought awareness to the farmer’s movement but have also brought awareness to the struggle of farmers who identify as women. Harinder Singh is the leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union in India and continues to fight for our people. Jagtar Singh is a longtime Sikh activist, who has not only taken on the role of expressing to the world that what happened in 1984 to Sikhs was a genocide but has also stood up for the farmers in India. These are just a few of the Sikh activists who are leaders in a movement that the entire world is watching.

These activists remind me why I am proud to be Sikh and why I support farmers.

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Kieron Kessler
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