Indian community holds drive-by rally in solidarity with protesting farmers

·3 min read

Blaring car horns disrupted the Sunday calm of Ottawa's Beechwood neighbourhood as hundreds of people protested against controversial agricultural reforms in India.

The vehicle convoy took off from the parking lot of the RA Centre on Riverside Drive and drove down the Vanier Parkway before passing the High Commission of India building on Beechwood Avenue — where drivers slowed down to honk and shout their support for India's farmers.

The protest was in solidarity with tens of thousands of farmers who have been camped out on the outskirts of the Indian capital, New Delhi, for the past six weeks. The farmers are demonstrating against three laws the Indian parliament passed in September with little consultation or deliberation.

"What we are trying to do is we are trying to show our support to the farmers who are protesting in India for the last 44 or 45 days," said Kanwar Hazrah, one of the protest organizers. "This is not just unfair. I think it's unjust as well."

The new laws would loosen rules governing India's farming industry, allowing farmers to set their own prices and sell their crops to private businesses. Until now, they've sold their crops directly to the government at guaranteed minimum prices.

While the Indian government hopes to spur private investment and growth, farmers worry the lack of a minimum price for crops like wheat — and an expanded role for corporations — will push profits down.

Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC
Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC

'Everything's in danger'

Many who took part in Sunday's protest, like Mahtab Dhaliwal, have family members in India who farm.

"We have seen our parents, grandparents out in the farms and so we really feel the pain now that everything's in danger," said Dhaliwal.

Dhaliwal said she's part of a rotating group of Ottawa residents who have been protesting outside the commission building every day for the last eight days, with some staying overnight.

This is not just an Indian problem. We all eat, and all our food comes from farmers all over the world. - Mahtab Dhaliwal

"This is not just an Indian problem. We all eat, and all our food comes from farmers all over the world," said Dhaliwal. "So this impacts all of us, not just the Indian people or the Indian farmers."

Vinny Manes stood across the street from the commission, cheering on the passing drivers and holding a sign saying: "No Farmers, No Future."

Manes said the new regime would give corporations the upper hand in negotiations with farmers over crop prices — and leave them with little legal recourse if they are exploited.

"Don't think that the farmers in India — they've been sitting there for 46 days now — that they'll get tired of this and they'll leave without getting the government to accept their demands," said Manes.

"And don't think that all the Indian diaspora ... will not stand up for their rights."

Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC
Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC

Representatives of the Indian government and the protesting farmers are currently engaged in talks over the farmers' demand that the reforms be scrapped.

On Friday, Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar offered to amend any flaws in the three laws but refused to repeal them.

Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC
Ryan Patrick Jones/CBC