Canadian Sikhs played a significant role in forcing Modi to back down on repressive farm laws

Most Canadian politicians, on the other hand, were reluctant to offer much support

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      A year into a huge farmers' protest in India, Narendra Modi did a surprising about-face.

      The Indian prime minister decided to repeal three controversial laws designed to promote corporate control over agriculture. It comes as Sikhs are celebrating the birth of the founder of their faith, Guru Nanak, and in advance of upcoming elections to the legislative assemblies in the northern states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

      Both are important agricultural areas.

      Farmers in India have traditionally had the right to sell products to the government for a guaranteed minimum price. Modi wanted farmers to sell their products to corporations and created trade-and-commerce legislation overriding state marketing laws.

      Secondly, Modi's government passed a law allowing farmers to sell at predetermined prices, but without including any mechanism for determining those prices. The third law eliminated rules regarding stockpiling food, which could enable corporations to drive down prices paid to farmers.

      All of this was done without public debate, enraging farmers, including many Sikh agricultural producers from Punjab.

      This government attack on the traditional culture of farming led to sustained protests in the capital of New Delhi. Hundreds of farmers died in the ensuing crackdown.

      Tensions escalated even further after an Indian cabinet minister's convoy mowed down protesters in October.

      All of this mobilized the Sikh diaspora like never before. Regular readers of were served up a steady diet of stories, mostly by Gurpreet Singh, highlighting how this titanic political struggle was unfolding in Metro Vancouver. 

      Surrey-raised rapper Jazzy B, community activists Ishwinder Singh and Dupinder Kaur Saran, Spice Radio staffers Mankiran Aujla and Vishaljeet Kaur, poet Sherry Duggal, and Delta printer Vipin Kapoor were just some of those who publicly spoke out on behalf of the farmers in Singh's articles.

      The Straight also published a cover story about the #AskIndiaWhy campaign, created by branding expert Mo Dhaliwal and Anita Lal with the Vancouver-based Poetic Justice Foundation.

      This campaign caused a major uproar in India by highlighting the country's wretched record of state violence, environmental disasters, and gender-based violence, along with the repressive policies targeting farmers. 

      Canadian federal politicians, for the most part, stayed on the sidelines as this monumental political fight unfolded. There were occasional public statements from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Liberal MPs Randeep Sarai and Sukh Dhaliwal from the Lower Mainland.

      But most MPs were reluctant to anger Indian diplomats. These diplomats are the mouthpieces of a government in New Delhi that locks up intellectuals, mostly turns a blind eye to violence against religious minorities, and declares war on civil society.

      Most Canadian MPs didn't see the preservation of a way of life in Punjab as an issue worthy of their advocacy. Justin Trudeau wanted to mend fences with the Modi regime, which is viewed as an important western ally in hemming in China.

      There's a great willingness of elected officials in Canada to remain silent in the face of tyranny in India while being quick to condemn similar outrages in China or Pakistan.

      There were some exceptions, however, at the municipal level.

      Vancouver councillor Jean Swanson, New Westminster councillor Chuck Puchmayr, and Burnaby councillor Sav Dhaliwal are three examples of local politicians who demonstrated that the Sikh community's human rights in India are important to them.

      In contrast to them, the vast majority of provincial MLAs came across as snivelling Neville Chamberlains, unwilling to utter a peep of protest to Indian diplomats about an issue of critical importance to their Sikh constituents.

      Let this be a lesson to voters in the next provincial election. If you care about international human rights, remember that Canadian politicians, for the most part, largely ignored efforts of so many average people in Metro Vancouver, particularly of Sikh heritage, to obtain justice for the farmers.

      Except for Chuck Puchmayr, who brought along some members of his council on human rights in India. Except for Jean Swanson. And except for members of Burnaby council, who've taken heed of Sav Dhaliwal's leadership on this issue.