I was only six years old when I last went to New Delhi, but the memories I have from that trip are some of the most vivid of my life. I remember every detail of my grandmother’s hands because they are still the softest I’ve ever felt, and I can still smell the rich scent of her sari as she would bundle me into her arms. I remember monkeys sneaking into kitchens to steal bananas and cows wandering the streets freely. I recall the thickness of the heat and how there was always so much dust, everywhere. I have memories of meeting labourers and farmers and the kindness they extended me when they let me ride their tractors.
Everyday I regret that I didn’t see my grandparents again before they passed away. But I see how they live on in my father, the hardest working man I know. I was instantly reminded of the resilience and beauty of Punjab when I met my cousins in Canada — strong, spirited and intelligent young adults that have become like brothers and sisters to me. It was one of those cousins that posted an image of farmers protesting in Delhi on their Instagram last year. I instantly saw my grandparents in their faces. I saw my father, aunts, uncles, cousins — a whole bloodline of ancestry. I felt the flashbacks rushing back to me of a culture so vibrant and tenacious that its memory refuses to be shaken.
On Feb. 2 Rihanna tweeted a single sentence of support for the #FarmersProtests happening in Delhi, causing the hashtag to immediately begin trending on Twitter, but the truth is that the largest protest in human history has been underway for months. Here’s what’s happening in India and why it matters so much on a global scale.
This is what actually happened over in Delhi
Since last August, over a million farmers have been protesting at Delhi’s borders against three farm bills that were passed in September by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The three bills privatize agriculture and sell farmers off to big corporations.
According to Vox, more than 60 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, including the employment of 80 per cent of working women who now fear these buyers will have all the power. Since the corporations will have access to a wider pool of suppliers they will push prices down, a change that will be worsened with the bills’ removal of government-imposed minimum prices for certain goods which farmers say were already only barely helping them make ends meet.
On Nov. 26 farmers organized a march towards New Delhi but they were met with barricades along the route. The government destroyed parts of the national highway and dug trenches to block their path. According to Al Jazeera, since the initial protests began over 100 protestors have died from severe weather conditions, health conditions, accidents and suicide.
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Human rights are in question and here’s why it matters
What’s currently happening in India reflects larger global issues of workers’ rights, which has rallied the support of many demonstrations all over the world. In the past few months, hundreds of Canadians in Montreal, Toronto and other Canadian cities have gathered outside consulates in solidarity with farmers in Delhi. When Trudeau spoke out with concern for the farmers, the Indian government stated, “Such actions, if continued, would have a seriously damaging impact on ties between India and Canada.”
Journalists who are reporting findings and truth are also under attack in India, and it’s not OK.
Despite the efforts of global demonstrations, the protests have failed to gain substantial media coverage. This is because the Indian government is abducting and torturing activists and journalists, and suspending news outlets and prominent social media accounts that are covering the protests, dangerously violating the human rights of their citizens. 24-year-old activist Nodeep Kaur was arrested from the Singhu border on Jan. 12. Her family were not aware of her detention until one day later, and her sister claims there are wounds on Kaur’s body and she has been physically and sexually assaulted in custody. Her bail was rejected on Feb. 2.
Labor activist Nodeep Kaur’s bail pleas have been rejected. She was arrested approx 20 days ago.
— Sandeep Singh (@PunYaab) February 2, 2021
Update on Nodeep Kaur- Her sister says that the family was not aware about Nodeep’s detention for one day. She maintains that there are wounds on Nodeep’s body and that she has been physically & sexually assaulted in custody.
— Amaan (@amaanbali) February 1, 2021
“This is not just a farmer’s struggle but the struggle of laborers & students… and until we come together, we will not be successful.” – Nodeep Kaur explains how & why workers in India are uniting in the most interesting, powerful & extensive display of worker class solidarity. https://t.co/IuqALnesVh
— Jo Kaur (@SikhFeminist) January 31, 2021
However, the protests have gained increasing global attention since the peaceful protests turned violent on Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day.
Tens of thousands of farmers marched, drove tractors and broke barriers into India’s capital. According to BBC News, one protester was killed and more than 500 policemen injured in the clashes. More than 200 protestors were detained, including 8 working journalists.
After Republic Day, the interior ministry announced that it was suspending internet services in districts surrounding Delhi, where thousands of protestors have been for months. According to CNN, the shutdown has been repeatedly extended each day which has completely shut off the farmers from being able to send or receive information. Walls of concrete and spikes are also being built around protest sites in an effort to cage people in and stop the flow of food and supplies.
In recent days, this has captured global attention.
why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest https://t.co/obmIlXhK9S
— Rihanna (@rihanna) February 2, 2021
What in the human rights violations is going on?! They cut the internet around New Delhi?! #FarmersProtest pic.twitter.com/a5ml1P2ikU
— Mia K. (@miakhalifa) February 3, 2021
It’s no coincidence that the world’s oldest democracy was attacked not even a month ago, and as we speak, the most populous democracy is under assault. This is related. We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters. https://t.co/yIvCWYQDD1 pic.twitter.com/DxWWhkemxW
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) February 2, 2021
This is how you can take action right now
Amplify on social media to raise awareness. A small act can cause a ripple effect that will save lives.
- “I’ve been advised by many human rights organizations that raising awareness on social media is the most effective tactic when dealing with the Indian government. They are highly sensitive to international attention – So let’s give it to them.” – Rupi Kaur
- Contact your elected officials and put pressure on anyone with a platform to speak up and bring attention to India’s human rights abuses. https://t.co/lNairgWw2L?amp=1
- Stay up to date with what’s happening by following journalists, activists and organizations: @vibhugroverr @grewaltwins @punyaab @baaznewsorg @sikhexpo @asis_kaur @jasveersinghmuktsar @poeticjfdn @khalsaaidca
- If you are wishing to donate, be conscious of where your money is going. Khalsa Aid stated on their website: “At present, there is no active fundraising for farmers protest by Khalsa Aid International. Funds received intended for the farmers are being ring-fenced and will be used to support the farming projects in Punjab. We urge everyone to be vigilant and ensure any funds they do send are rightfully received.”
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