- Raj Sodhi-Layne of Fresno, California joined the protest to respect the legacy of her grandparents and create global awareness about the issue.
Hundreds of Sikh Americans gathered in Washington, D.C. on March 20 to show solidarity with the farmers protesting in India. They gathered at the Lincoln Memorial at noon and walked to the White House. Holding Indian and American flags and placards, the young and old, men and women, marched in unison to support the farmers and create awareness of the ongoing protests and the Indian government’s new agricultural laws. They held signs supporting the farmers and criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the current government for the bill. They listened to speakers and chanted “No farmers, no food,” and “We want justice.”
Protestors who spoke at the rally expressed their transparent and unbiased views and awareness about three farming bills and how these bills passed as laws by the India Parliament impact the livelihood of farmers, including their human rights and personal freedom. Some of the speakers who have their friends and family members participating in the farmers protests in India.
Bus loads of people came from New York, New Jersey, Maryland and the neighboring D.C. area. Some attendees came from as far as California. Among them was Raj Sodhi-Layne, a banker and an agricultural lender from Fresno, California. “It was the first day of sign and God gave us beautiful weather in Washington D.C,” Sodhi-Layne told American Kahani. “It was amazing to see young kids, young organizers, a lot of women, it was a very emotional day,” she said. “It’s an issue of injustice that affects all of us.”
After meeting at the Lincoln Memorial, an ardas (prayer) was said, and the crowd began walking to the White House, Sodhi-Layne said. They stopped at the Washington monuments where a few more speeches were heard. “At one point I thought of my grandparents, about what they would think of their granddaughter walking in Washington for a protest in India. Her grandparents on both sides were farmers and her grandfather still has land in Punjab.
And it is because of this personal connection, Sodhi-Layne created a 30-second ad supporting the cause that aired on a local channel in Fresno on Super Bowl Sunday. It also included a brief appearance by Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer. One of the reasons Sodhi-Layne decided to make the commercial was the visuals from the ongoing protests. “When I look at the faces of the old men and women, they represent my grandparents,” she says. “There is synergy between farmers in India and farmers in the U.S.,” she says. “It’s scary.”
“For me, this ad was my way of respecting the legacy of my grandparents and also offered a wonderful opportunity to create global awareness about the issue. Peaceful protest is the right of every human being, and it was disturbing to see that being violated.”
A month later, the same ad was launched nationally on CBS and NBC TV stations, from March 2 through March 8. It ran during the morning and evening news in 21 major cities — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Washington DC, Denver, Cleveland, Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Portland, St Louis, Raleigh-Durham, Austin, New Orleans, Buffalo, Fresno, and Visalia. The ad cost $149,000 to run.
Sodhi-Layne, who is on the board of Fresno County Chamber, was recently appointed to the Mayor’s Advisory Council. According to her Fresno County has 1.8 million acres of farmland, while California has 25 million acres of farmland. “We contribute $7.7 billion towards the GDP.”A 2018 Sikh Coalition report estimates that there are approximately 40,000 Sikhs/Punjabis in Fresno County, 200,000 in California and roughly 700,000 in the United States.
She has started a GoFundMe page — “Support the Farmers; Protest: Stand with All Farmers” — to raise funds and create awareness. “This protest is the largest in world history and in my lifetime,” the page says. “The three laws need to be repealed. As human beings we have the democratic right to peaceful protest,” it adds. Monies raised will pay for the National ad, PR firm and Web page development. The cost also includes 6 Interviews in major tv markets. A social media campaign to follow.”
There is also a website, Standingwithfarmers.com, asking people to contact their local elected officials for their help and to support the protest. “It has become the human rights issue of the moment – a set of laws targeting small and family farms across India has set the table to destroy the livelihoods of literally millions of people in India,” the page says, “The time to stand with them has come. Join us as we Stand with Farmers in India, and across the globe, in this historic moment.”
Several Indian Americans have been holding rallies across the U.S to show solidarity with the farmers protesting in India. Similarly celebrities, including pop singer Rihanna, environmental activist Greta Thunberg, Meera Harris, niece of Vice President Kamala Devi Harris and actresses Susan Sarandon and Jamila Jamil, among others have taken to social media to show their support.
Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.