Britain’s Indian community have called on the UK to take action to support farmers protesting against agricultural reform laws. Minreet Kaur reports.
Farmers have continued to protest for more than six months in India, railing against three agricultural laws which the country’s government passed last year.
The laws were intended to modernise India’s fast failing agriculture sector, in particular regarding how crops can be sold.
Farming employs more than 50 per cent of India’s workforce. But poverty and debt was a huge issue, with 85 per cent of farmers owning less than two hectares.
Last year the suicide rate rose to 22,141, compared to 16,606 in 2015 according to researchers Saving Punjab.
Shamsher Singh, a 32-year-old farmer from Ropar, said: “We will also not go back, we are the followers of Guru Gobind Singh [the tenth Sikh guru who transformed the Sikh faith]. We have to die someday. Rather than dying in hospital taking medicines, it is better to die a martyr.”
Disha Ravi, an environmental activist who is part of an organisation founded by climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg, was arrested on Saturday for allegedly creating and sharing an online document that supported the protest.
And the Indian Government has labelled peaceful protestors as ‘khalistani’ and ‘terrorists’.
Shingara Singh, a 92-year-old farmer from Hoshiapur, said farming was the community’s ‘bread and butter’.
“It is our duty to protect the future of our grandchildren, even if it costs our lives. We are not terrorists, we are normal people fighting for our rights.”
British Indians were also affected, with many people having family members who own land or were at the protests.
Rajinder Singh is a 74-year-old farmer and landowner from London and was awarded an MBE after inspiring millions of people to stay active while raising thousands of pounds for the NHS last year in his Skipping Sikh videos last year.
He said he had been glued to his television and had been upset to see protestors subjected to violence.
“This is a human rights violation. The UK Government needs to intervene. My family are affected, they are at the protest and they will not survive if the laws are passed,” he said.
He added farmers would not give up protesting for their rights.
“We stand together and we will see this through no matter what comes our way,” he said.
“I wanted to get a flight to India to be there with my brothers and sisters but because of the lockdown I cannot go. They are in my prayers and I hope justice prevails.”
Celebrities and the public have shown their support for the protestors on social media using the hashtag #IStandWithFarmers.
Slough MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi has written a cross-party letter to the Prime Minister which was signed by 100 MPs. There was also a petition signed by more than 100,000 people which will need to be discussed in Parliament.
He said peaceful protestors had been met on their way to Delhi with water cannons, tear gas and brute force.
“Since then, they have been protesting for months, so that their voice is heard," said Mr Dhesi.
“I believe everyone deserves the right to a fair and peaceful protest, and therefore the UK Government needs to take a stand for human rights by conveying our and our constituents’ concerns to the Indian Government.
“More than 100 cross-party MPs have called on both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to raise these anxieties with the Indian Prime Minister.
“I hope the situation can soon be resolved so there is an end to the misery for farmers, out protesting in freezing conditions.”