Calgary Punjabis take to the highway to support Indian farmers

·2 min read

Dozens of cars and trucks braved the icy highway between Calgary and Edmonton on Tuesday to show support with farmers protesting controversial new agriculture laws in India.

The car convoy left CrossIron Mills headed for the legislature to raise awareness of the situation that's been unfolding in India since last September. Cars were flying flags and displaying stickers and homemade posters.

New legislation came into effect in India last year changing the rules around the sale, pricing and storage of produce from India's agricultural regions.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the changes will allow farmers to set prices and allow them to sell crops to private businesses and corporations, giving them more freedom.

Farmers are worried it will leave them open to being exploited and devastate them financially, and they say they weren't consulted.

Dan McGarvey/CBC
Dan McGarvey/CBC

Until now, farmers had relied on selling crops direct to the government at guaranteed prices.

Some families in Calgary still own land in rural India and the change in laws has direct implications for some.

Half of India's vast population is employed in the agriculture sector in some form.

"We want to give our memorandum in support of farmers protesting, that's the purpose," said Vik Sahiwal.

"Opening up the market is the intention, but with such small land holdings, just two acres on average, those farmers are not educated and equipped to deal with the free market," said Sahiwal.

"We want the government to repeal these laws," he said.

Dan McGarvey/CBC
Dan McGarvey/CBC

Tens of thousands of farmers travelled to the Indian capital, Delhi, late last year from rural regions like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, with many making the journey in tractors and other farm equipment. They've been there for months,

In the past 24 hours, those peaceful protests turned violent, with farmers breaching police barricades and storming Delhi's historic Red Fort complex.

The protesters were part of a rally being held to mark India's Republic Day and were given routes to stick to by police, but some ignored the guidance leading to chaotic scenes and clashes.

"It's heartbreaking for everyone," said Sahiwal. "Last night, watching those scenes, you're worried about the safety or older people and women and children. We hope things calm down and sense prevails, peace prevails," he said.

He says Calgarians have been glued to TV screens and devices following the news back home minute by minute.

Dan McGarvey/CBC
Dan McGarvey/CBC

"We're scared for our families back home," said Paramjit Singh.

"This cold, it's nothing compared to what they're facing. We have heaters in our cars, they have nothing," said Singh, who has also been following events.

"We were watching and we were all scared," he said.

Leaders of farmers unions issued appeals to protestors and have condemned the recent violence.

The government offered to put the laws on hold last week, but farmers say they want a full repeal.

Dan McGarvey/CBC
Dan McGarvey/CBC