Farmers’ revolt is dividing the Indian diaspora in Canada

Posted by Rishi In: Uncategorized No comments

Thousands of years later and about 125 kilometres south of Kurukshetra, where Mahabharata was fought between the good and the evil from the same clan, battle lines are drawn once again among the citizens of the same nation with each party claiming to be on the right side of history.

The ownership of land is once more at the heart of the conflict.

Three controversial farm laws, introduced by the New Delhi government, have become a source of friction. This big fight against the faulty system has turned people of Indian origin against each other in Canada and the United States.

Sikhs make up 60 per cent of the Indian population in Canada.

The majority of Hindus in Canada are from Gujarat, where Narendra Modi was chief minister for 15 successive years before becoming prime minister in 2014.

For many Hindus, Modi is a towering political figure, while many others disagree with his policies. Many in Punjab and Haryana, the breadbasket of India, don’t like his policies.

Currently, 85 per cent of the farmers in these states own less than two hectares of land. This segment feels new farm laws are threatening their livelihood, giving them no choice but to resist.

The Indian government says these laws are aimed to expedite infrastructure investment, technology in the agrarian sector and liberalize farm markets by facilitating the involvement of big corporations.

Unconvinced by these claims, farmers demand the repeal of the laws. They see them as “anti-farmer” and deny them the right to be heard in case of a legal dispute. This goes against the principle of natural justice that is enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Most political scientists in Canada and India agree these laws won’t help farmers in the long run.

The majority of about 700,000 Sikh Canadians come from rural India, many still holding land titles there. They are behind huge demonstrations held across Canada.

Punjabi news media outlets in Canada overwhelmingly support farmers, whereas other language media has chosen to align itself with New Delhi by promoting pro-India rallies.

In Ontario, Hindu Forum Canada sponsored billboards overseeing major highways, thanking Modi for sending COVID-19 vaccines. The timing of such advertising has conflicted with ongoing protests causing more tension on religious lines within the diaspora.

Sikhs allege provocation on part of those supporting Modi. Canada has received COVID-19 vaccines from German and the U.S. also. “Why no billboards came up to thank those countries?” they wonder.

The story doesn’t end there. The pro-India groups also organized Tiranga rallies. The Tiranga (tri-colour) is the national flag of India. The question arises, why hold these rallies at a time when the emotions are running high?

A senior journalist, Hartosh Bal, the political editor of New Delhi-based The Caravan magazine was invited to deliver a talk on farm laws at the University of British Columbia on April 7.

Punjabi Studies at UBC organized the event. Some radical Sikhs opposed it because Bal is the nephew of the late K.P.S. Gill, the former director-general of police in the Punjab. Buckling under their pressure, UBC cancelled it. As a protest against UBC’s decision, former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh threw away his law degree in the recycling bin. He wrote an open letter to the UBC president expressing his outrage too.

Such polarization on religious, ideological lines has no place in Canada. Sadly, the widening gulf between Hindus and Sikhs, moderates and radicals, has damaged the multicultural fabric of our adopted home.

People may have differences of opinion on issues related to their country of birth, but there is no justification for spewing venom, street fights or muzzling voices of reason in Canada.

Freedom of expression is integral to Canada; no one can take away this from anyone. Fundamental to Canada’s success is its unity in diversity. To keep this diversity alive and strong, it’s a must to learn to respect the right of others to have opposite views.

Whether the government of India accepts the demands of farmers or not remains to be seen, but division within the Indian diaspora will leave its ugly footprints for generations to come if it is not addressed right now.

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