For months now local farmers in India have been peacefully demonstrating against their own government and marching for their rights. Many local students discovered these protests through Instagram posts, so the picture of what is really happening has not fully come into focus though. However a student within our own San Joaquin Memorial community is able to speak about the controversy in India that prompted these peaceful protests.
“The farmers are protesting because this new bill will make it easier for the rich to get more rich and for the poor to get even more poor,” senior Akhnoor Sidhu as she explained how “these bills allow big businesses and private businesses to, in a way, own the farmer’s land and pay them however much money they feel like. The businesses that own these pieces of land could now pay the farmers whatever they want to pay, whether that be 3 dollars or 30 dollars.”
The bills that Sidhu discussed were three Farmer Acts passed by the Indian Parliament that many farmers see as "anti-farmer," giving corporations and the government far more control over their production and their small businesses. As they protested, the government began cracking down on their peaceful demonstration in a violent way, utilizing tear gas and water cannons to suppress their voices.
This experience in itself is deeply personal to Sidhu, as her family’s heritage is deeply connected to these events and India as a whole.
“I come from a family of farmers. My grandparents were farmers in Punjab, India. I still have relatives there who farm several different types of fruits and vegetables that get shipped globally.” Her activism is even further connected to this current event; she has become actively involved in activist matters rather than simply putting words of encouragement on social media.
“I have always been an activist and have stood up for what I believe in, but I became a movement starter just this year with a petition calling for the removal of Gandhi’s bust at Fresno State.”
This piece of background information is crucial to understanding who Akhnoor is and why these protests are not only important to her, but should also be important to everyone who values freedom. One of the many ways she protested for the rights of these farmers was by participating in a car rally, a method of demonstration people have adopted during our current pandemic-lifestyle in order to both keep themselves safe and fight for what they believe. Thousands of Americans came together to protest the Indian government’s treatment of its people, decrying them as people clinging to power who are exploiting those who they see as beneath their stature.
”I was part of the successful caravan/rally that brought together South Asians from all over California,” Sidhu described.
“There were around 30,000 to 40,000 of us and about 2,000 people stood in front of the Indian consulate in San Francisco to protest against [India’s Prime Minister] Modi and these bills he passed.”
These protests in a way can be equated to the Black Lives Matter protests that tore across America and parts of the world months before, where many protested against police brutality and for the rights of African Americans. These Indian farmer protests rival these protests in size, and in fact people like Akhnoor view both protests in a very similar light.
"It may seem that the farmers' protests and BLM protests are very different, but they’re not that different. They’re both about human rights and being fair. For the BLM Movement/protest, it was in opposition to the police and defunding the police. For the farmers’ protest it’s opposing the 3 farmers bills that were passed, even though a majority of the farmers were against it," explained Sidhu.
Despite the number of protests, people like Sidhu are unhappy with the national and international response. She specifically is “...not at all happy with the response America has had towards the farmer protests. With over 200 million people and counting currently at the protest, this is obviously the largest protest that has happened in history. It is appalling to see that there are almost no news channels covering the protests.”
When asked about how Memorial students like us can contribute to these causes, Sidhu saw it all as relatively simple. Many teenagers in our community have already posted about the Indian protests on their social media in support of the movement, but we can all do so much more.
“High schoolers can contribute a lot. From raising awareness via social media, signing petitions, donating to Khalsa Aid [an organization which is currently helping provide food, medications, clothing, and more to the protestors], and even writing to local politicians in regards to this can help.” Although Sidhu outlined these ways high schoolers could participate, she did say to exercise caution.
"Due to the pandemic and being in school, there isn’t too much high schoolers could do [directly], but simply educating 5 people you know, and telling them to educate another 5 people about this protest can help a lot.”
The Indian Farmers’ Protests are much like a multitude of other protests in American history, as much of the world’s citizens are coming out in support of these farmers against the leaders who are exploiting them. The Indian people know they are not alone; the American people themselves proved that they care about these issues through their mass protests, ones that rivaled the Black Lives Matter protests in terms of size.
Even so, they still feel as if they are alone, with very few international leaders drawing much attention to the events, America included. Protests revolving around fundamental human rights should always have the fullest attention. If people truly care about these issues and ones like them, then they should fight for it in ways Sidhu has done and outlined, as our age does not disqualify us from fighting for the rights of others.
All photos were outsourced from Ahknoor Sidhu.