Protesters gathered at Prospera Place in Kelowna on Sunday, Dec. 6, in opposition to what they called anti-farmers bills in India. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)

Protesters take to Kelowna roads in support of Indian farmers

Members of the Okanagan Valley's Punjabi community protested India's new agricultural laws, which they say will harm farmers

  • Dec. 6, 2020 12:00 a.m.

Members of the Okanagan Valley’s Punjabi community gathered at Prospera Place in Kelowna Sunday afternoon (Dec. 6) in support of Indian farmers.

The demonstration took to the road, with a kilometres-long line of sign-donning, honking vehicles taking over the centre lane of Highway 97 as they made their way to Prospera Place. The protest — comprised of several local farmers of Indian heritage — is one of many that have taken place across Canada in recent weeks against several new agricultural laws imposed in September by the Indian government.

Those laws, in part, allow farmers to sell products directly to private buyers, rather than middlemen adhering to the state-controlled minimum support price (MSP), which since 2009 has safeguarded farmers’ profits. While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stated the laws will allow farmers to earn more money by opening new streams of revenue, farmers have expressed fears that private buyers won’t adhere to government-set minimum prices.

The new bills, protesters said, upend decades of business practices for Indian farmers, putting their livelihoods at risk.

“If we do not bring attention to what’s happening in India right now, it’s going to end in bloodshed,” said protester Amarjit Singh Lalli. “All three [bills] favour corporations … they will wipe out the small farmers in India.”

In India, the farmers’ protests near the country’s capital city, Delhi, have been met with tear gas and water cannons. This prompted what Indian officials called interference in its affairs by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said Canada would always support the right of farmers to be heard.

“Canada will always stand up for the right of peaceful protest anywhere around the world. And we’re pleased to see moves towards de-escalation and dialogue,” Trudeau said Friday when asked about India’s criticism of his remarks.

READ MORE: Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The protesters in Canada stated their Indian counterparts — largely from the state of Punjab — are not being allowed their right to peaceful protest, and as such, the demonstrations have made their way across the globe.

“It’s been more than two months … the Indian government is not listening to them,” said protest organizer Harpreet Marwaha. “If that bill is applied … I don’t think they will be able to survive.”

Organizers estimated that roughly 300 people took part in the protest, with all adhering to COVID-19 precautions they had set out.

The Kelowna protest followed a similar one held in Penticton on Saturday.

With files from the Canadian Press

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