Hundreds of San Francisco Bay Area residents, including a large contingent of Indian Americans, led a procession organized by the Sikh Coalition across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in California Dec. 5 afternoon in solidarity with farmers in India who are protesting several agriculture laws, multiple news reports said.
The Bay Area residents, many of them Sikhs, were joined by travelers from the Central Valley and greater Sacramento area to wave flags, honk horns and chant protest slogans, according to a Bay Area News Group report.
The caravan departed near the Port of Oakland and circled past the Indian Consulate General’s office in San Francisco, where protesters said the country’s deregulatory laws will drive Indian farmers to economic ruin, it said.
Due to the protest, traffic across the bridge was gridlocked for hours before finally clearing up at 7 p.m. local time.
“The bills they introduced are 110 percent against the farmers and the people in Punjab,” said Livermore resident Harpreet Singh in the BANG report. “They have to kneel down on their knees and take these bills back.”
As the caravan proceeded through Oakland, a large group of protesters lined the sidewalks of Middle Harbor Road, some standing at the Maritime Way intersection and chanting at the vehicles passing by. Demonstrators held signs that read, “Shame on the Indian government!” and “We are farmers, not terrorists,” the latter an apparent reference to anti-protest rhetoric in India, the report continued.
While some brought flyers criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, others said their only cause was to advocate for farmers who would lose government support under the new policies, the report said.
Indian farmers say that the laws could eliminate the price guarantees they now receive from the government, it said.
“This is a cultural movement,” Navi Singh told the publication. “Farmers have never been able to get by in India and everyone knows that.”
Although organized by The Sikh Coalition, word of the Dec. 5 demonstration was shared widely on social media; Jagmeet Mohar traveled to Oakland from Manteca in San Joaquin County after seeing a post on his Facebook feed, the BANG report said.
“It’s an effort from our side (of the world) to support farmers who are, right now, sleeping on the street,” Mohar told the publication.
The Press Trust of India further reported that hundreds of Sikh Americans have held peaceful protest rallies in several cities across the U.S. in support of the Indian farmers who have been protesting against the new agricultural reforms in India.
In addition to the Bay Area protest, another several hundreds gathered in downtown Indianapolis.
"Farmers are the soul of any nation. We must protect our soul. People around the world, including many cities in the U.S. and Canada, have come together to dispose of the bills that will open India's agricultural market to the private sector; allowing major corporations to take over independent farming communities and dilute crops' market value," said Indiana-based Gurinder Singh Khalsa in the PTI report.
Khalsa was one of the organizers of the rally in downtown Indianapolis attended by nearly 500 Sikh Americans from various parts of Indiana.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting at various borders of Delhi since Nov. 26, seeking repeal of three farm laws enacted in September, the report said.
Dubbing these laws as "anti-farmer," these farmers claim that the newly enacted legislations would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporations, according to the report.
However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture, it said.
A day earlier on Dec. 4, there was a gathering of Sikh Americans in Chicago and a protest rally in front of the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Another one was planned for Dec. 6.
"No Farmers, No Food" and "Save the Farmers" were the commonly-sighted posters at these peaceful protest rallies, according to the PTI report.
"This is a peaceful protest and should serve as a loud and clear message to the Indian government. We must support our farmers," said Amandeep Singh Hundal.
"This is not a request to Indian government, rather a demand to take all three bills back," said another Sikh leader, Darshan Singh Darar, in the PTI report.
The protest in Bay Area was organized by the Jakara Movement, a California-based grassroots organization which seeks to strengthen community engagement and build empowerment by focusing on issues of civic engagement, education, health, and social justice, the report noted.
Organizers said the caravan protest taking place on Dec. 6 in the Bay Area – along with similar recent protests in New York, Houston, Michigan, Chicago and Washington, D.C. – was meant as a show of solidarity, as Sikhs around the world urge international condemnation of the farm bills, the PTI report noted.
"Without farmers, there is no food. Without farming, there is no livelihood for the millions of people in Punjab who have relied on farming as a source of income for generations,” said Naindeep Singh, executive director of the Jakara Movement.
"These issues are deeply intertwined, and we will raise our voices to ensure that the families from Punjab who are putting their lives on the line to protest in Delhi can do so without facing threats from the Indian government," Naindeep Singh added.