A convoy of cars and other vehicles festooned with orange flags symbolizing the Sikh religion and black flags of protest paraded down Highway 17 toward the provincial legislature Monday afternoon as local farmers and their supporters showed solidarity with peers in India.
Roop Toor was among the hundreds of protesters spread across about 85 vehicles in the parking lot Canadian Tire in North Saanich (many hailing from the mainland) before heading south to join more than 100 vehicles from other parts of Victoria and Nanaimo to rally outside the provincial legislature as a gesture of solidarity.
India’s federal government recently introduced three farm bills, that have drawn praise from experts as a step toward greater market liberalization but criticism from farmers like Toor’s parents, who farm rice and wheat in India, by eliminating guaranteed prices for their product. Critics also accuse the bills of granting corporations too much control.
Speaking before the rally, Toor said he and his fellow protesters are trying to draw attention to the issue, countering efforts by the Indian government to downplay protests in that country, ultimately forcing the government to withdraw the legislation.
“We want to convey a message to the government that every part of the world wants this,” said Toor.
For Toor, Monday’s protest has a personal dimension as his parents and as well as his extended family have taken part in protests, perhaps none more symbolic than the blocking of a major highway connecting the Indian capital of New Delhi with the northern region of the country, its most agriculturally productive part.
While not a farmer himself, Toor’s background gives him an appreciation of the struggles faced by farmers.
The Feb. 1 protest was the second of its kind in Victoria and follows a comparable protest in Surrey. Protests have also taken place in other parts of Canada, England and Australia.
The actions of the Indian government have unfolded against India’s diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic backdrop rife with faultlines. India’s federal government led by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi stands accused of using disproportionate deadly force against the protesters; as Indo-Canadians have expressed fear for the safety of their relatives and friends.
The bills themselves have not yet come into effect and India’s top court has halted their implementation in ordering the creation of an independent committee of experts to negotiate with opponents of the legislation.
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