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Sikh Americans Take Exception to Comparison of India’s Farmers’ Protests with Storming U.S. Capitol

Sikh Americans Take Exception to Comparison of India’s Farmers’ Protests with Storming U.S. Capitol

Anu Ghosh
  • Sikh Coalition urges President Biden to condemn police violence against Indian farmers and hold Prime Minister Modi's government accountable.

Thousands of Indian farmers marching, on horseback and driving tractors, protesting controversial agricultural reforms clashed with police in New Delhi on January 26, 2021. Protesters on the outskirts of the city, deviating from their original plans, turned what was supposed to be a peaceful protest into a contentious one.

The protest saw irate protesters scale the walls and domes of the iconic Red Fort monument in New Delhi, even hoisting flags of various farmers unions and religious ‘Khalsa’ flags alongside India’s national flag.

Hundreds of thousands of farmers drove their tractors in convoys into the Indian capital as part of ongoing, nationwide protests and various farmers unions had been camping out in protest on the outskirts of the capital for more than two months. Others, including young farmers from the northern states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan, had gathered on the border over the past few days in time for the planned march on India’s Republic Day.

One protester died, and more than 300 police officers were injured.

Blaming the chaos on rogue elements among an otherwise peaceful march, most farmers’ leaders said they would not call off their protests.

Tear gas and flash bangs could be seen on live streams from the city’s streets as police moved to contain large crowds of protestors in tractors and on foot from breaking through barricades. Both police and protesters were spotted with large sticks in the streets.

The Modi government, which has come under fire says its reforms will liberalize the sector, but farmers say they will be poorer as a result, likening the laws to a “death warrant” by farmer groups, threaten decades-old concessions – such as assured prices – and weaken their bargaining power, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by private companies.

“Hoisting the Sikh flag on Red Fort has historical significance. It says, we the people of Sikh nation are against the tyranny of the government.”

And although most economists and experts agree that Indian agriculture desperately needs reform, critics of the government say it failed to consult farmers before passing the laws.

With the Indian farmers’ protest drawing strength from the Sikh diaspora around the world, urging foreign governments to intercede with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, American Kahani reached out to members of the Sikh community for their reactions to this.

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Rajanpreet Kaur, of the Sikh Coalition told American Kahani, “In addition to meeting protestors with violence during and since the Delhi tractor rally, the Indian government has suspended internet services to restrict freedom of speech and the press. The response to these protests reinforces a pattern of the Indian government suppressing human rights, and we are urging President Biden to condemn the recent acts of violence against the protestors and hold Prime Minister Modi’s government accountable.”

Kaur, adds that as an organization, the Sikh Coalition is undertaking advocacy approaches to raising awareness of the farmers’ protest from the perspective of bringing attention to human and civil rights violations committed by the government toward the protestors.

Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, member of World Sikh Parliament said, “Hoisting the Sikh flag on Red Fort has historical significance. It says, we the people of Sikh nation are against the tyranny of the government.” Adding that the Sikh flag has been hoisted on the Red Fort many times to represent people’s voice against oppression, Khalsa told American Kahani, “No one burned or dishonored the Indian flag. This shows Sikh farmers are against oppression and just want justice done.”

Referring to comparisons drawn with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan 6 2021, Khalsa says, “I condemn India for comparing this with the U.S. Capitol incident as farmers have been protesting peacefully. They entered and left Delhi without damaging any government property. This incident sent the message to Prime Minister Modi that if minorities are not treated equally In India, and these farmers bills are not repealed, it may result in an early election and change of government.”  

“And with Narendra Modi having built an image of an aggressive, brazen politician who gets things done, if he agrees to withdraw the bill, that infallible image will take a beating and if not, his government may be at risk,” he said.

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