“This farmer’s protest has given me the clarity of life. It has made me a better human being”
Updated: May 18, 2021
1. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do?
I was born and raised in India and then I came to the US when I was 21 years old for a master’s degree at the University of Florida. I moved to Canada eventually for professional opportunities. I am an activist and a community builder. I work on issues from sustainable energy, gender equality, student government and jobs across different sectors, I come from a family of farmers and soldiers. My great-grandfather was the first colonel of the British India Army. My grandfathers have served in World War II to Indian Wars of 1965 and 71. My family is a middle-class family with roots in farming and soldiers from which I derive the discipline and values that they represent.
2. You have been active in supporting and reporting on the Farmers movement in India. Since when have you been doing this and Why?
On November 26th I saw the first news reports on Farmers protesting in India. On December 7th I traveled to India.
The farmers protest has been going on in Punjab since last summer until the national movement reached the borders of Delhi on November 26th. I was listening to Zee TV, Sudhir Chaudhary was speaking, and he had the tagline running “the farmer enemy of the country?” That was really a life-changing moment for me. I heard the broadcast for an hour and a half. They had people from different kinds of political ideologies, very extreme, and speaking about things which did not sound right at all. They were creating all these words, that this is a Khalistani moment. And I thought that if they can do it why can’t I build a positive narrative for the farmers, which is about the truth. Why can’t we have a political expression to represent people’s political ideologies, be the leaders of this kisan morcha. That is the time I started using my community building skills. I tried to mobilize people in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto before I flew down to Delhi in the first week of December and right from the airport I went to the Singhu border. I was quick enough to realize that they don’t really need me because the morcha was going full strength. I shifted my focus to Uttar Pradesh (Ghazipur border) which has the largest population of peasants in India.
All the goods from Punjab especially the sangat from India and around the globe, was sending help to Tikri and the Singhu borders predominantly. I joined the protest in Ghazipur when there were only 200 farmers. The Indian farmer is fighting for the basic human right to have access to food for every citizen of India. Not many people realize that this is not just about farmers, it is about food security as well. Because if there is going to be no farmers, then how will there be food. So we started from Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh knowing it has the largest population of farmers, largest population, largest number of constituent assembly seats, largest number of members of parliament in India. If we could shake Uttar Pradesh, we could shake the union government of India. This government is only focused on winning elections, not good governance or equitable lawmaking; what should be the two major responsibilities of any government.
3. Did you have a sense of how long you were going to be in India for? Did you leave your job or take a break from your job?
After November 26th I don’t remember a single night when I was not sweating. I tried to call my parents, I have always been asking them if they are willing to move to North America but my family has been reluctant. So I was always worried about my family. I’ll tell you this government, they are really good at building narratives. They built a narrative for Kashmir, all the youth of Kashmir, they are anti-national, irresponsible, stone-pelters and anarchists. They are really good at doing that. Many Punjabi people do not realize that the narrative for Punjab has already been built. We are Nasheries (substance abusers) and anti-nationals. Punjab has always been in the forefront of political awareness. Like Bengal, even the Britishers used to say that if you could rule Bengal and Punjab you could rule over India. This is the blessing from our Gurus, Punjab will always be the beacon of secularism, the beacon of sovereignty because we have been fighting with invaders, British colonialists, we have been fighting with every power of the world that has tried to rule the Indian subcontinent. We have been instrumental in establishing the values of secularism in India. I felt if I didn’t go to India, if good people do nothing then evil will continue to prevail.
I took it upon myself that I have to be there, so I took a 25 day vacation which I was supposed to take anyways in the last week of December, so I thought why last week of December why not now? Because who knows what kind of narrative we can build. So I went to India. I was invited to speak at many border gatherings. I started trying to build a narrative.
I built a slogan which is now viral in India, “Sabse Upar Rakhenge Desh Kaa Jhanda, Pura Karke Rahenge Kisaan Agenda” (We will keep the nation’s flag at the top, while we accomplish Farmers demands).
We believe in the unity of India. Farmers are the backbone of India. If there is no farming, there could be no agriculture, and no culture without agriculture. We would not have these wonderful dresses, songs, the delightful cuisines that we enjoy if we don’t have farming. I am still on the road, since December 7th, I have not visited Canada. This protest has given me the clarity of life. It made me a better human being, more spiritually awakened. I know now that agriculture is the most crucial profession that a human could ever have. I want to be a farmer for life now. I want to support farmers all my life, that is my mission and calling.
4. You are right now in the US and were in Washington DC as part of a March on Washington for Human Rights on March 20th. Can you share details of this march. Why have this March?
There is a famous slogan by Mahinder Singh Tikait, father of Rakesh Tikait who is one of the leaders of the farmers movement, “Jab Tak Pareshaan Kisaan Rahega Tab Tak Dharti Pe Bhuchaal Rahega” (Until farmer is in dire straits the earth will bear witness to storms).
That is true for America as well. Through this platform we request president Biden, vice president Harris and the distinguished members of congress to highlight values they stand for. Article 19 of the Indian constitution grants the fundamental right to every citizen in India to protest anywhere throughout the sovereign land, which is now being violated by the government itself. We held a moment of silence for 310 seconds, so more than 310 farmers have died. Farmers’ protests have been going on for 110 days.
We have people from different institutions, universities, leaders speak at the March for Justice. It is not just the farmers in the India. We want to be loud and clear to all the democratic institutions and office bearers of the home of the brave and land of the free. We want to tell them loud and clear if you don’t raise your voice against the inhuman treatment of the Indian farmers by the government, farmers in America will face similar issues. Eight of the biggest US farmer unions have given their unconditional support to Indian farmers. We want to spread awareness everywhere.
5. The current US administration under President Biden has been silent on Farmers issue in India. Why do you think that is?
There are many issues, this first is the mutual respect we have for each other’s internal matters. Indian media and its diplomats are trying to spread the word that only a few hundred farmers, are protesting. They are trying to make it look very small, they have the machinery and infrastructure, to spread lies like that. Second, because of the geopolitical things going on, we know now that America has rivals in south east Asia as well. They want to be very cautious of whatever decisions they make, they don’t want to sour their relationship with India. I understand this, but we have to remind America of its obligations to human rights values. Farmers are fighting to abolish these 3 laws and have a minimum support price, which is equivalent to the minimum wages we have. Asking for MSP, asking for minimum wage is not a political issue, is not a partisan issue, is not a religious issue, is not a socialistic issue, not a communistic issue, it is a humane rights issues. We want the American government to stop believing in the propaganda being spread by the Indian media and its diplomats, and do its own research and analysis.
6. What can Americans and others around the globe do to support the Farmers movement in India to bring about meaningful change?
Americans have always stood for liberty, justice and equality. Clarity is power. Have clarity on what the issues are. India’s national motto is Satyameva Jayate (Truth alone triumphs). I’m not saying the government is bad, trust me what we are fighting is the policy of the government. The three key words I speak everywhere about are, Savdan meaning constitution and believing in the constitution and believing in the law of the land and not going above your liberties or using your platform that could be hurting others. We have to be respectful of other people’s lives. Second is Sangatith – being organized and, Satyagraha, nonviolent civil resistance. If we have to make our voices heard, we have to be respectful, how we say it matters more than what we say. To end my conversation I would use this one phrase from the movie Gone With the Wind. This young starlet doesn’t want to listen to her dad, she says she doesn’t care about the plantation or the farm. Let this be known, land is the only thing worth dying for, because it is the only thing that will ever remain. We are fighting for our land, we are fighting for the freedom to sow whatever we want to, we are fighting for food for every child in India. More than 45% of children are malnourished in India. India ranks 94th on the hunger list of the world. So we should be looking at these figures and we should as part of the proud Indian diaspora around the world raise our voices and do the right thing!.
I would like to salute a few organizations that have been at the forefront of doing sewa not only during farmers movement but anytime there are humanitarian needs around the globe. UNITED SIKHS has been offering humanitarian, legal and advocacy relief aid to farmers in India since the early days of the movement last year. Sarbat Da Bhala Trust by Sardar S.P. Singh Oberoi based out of Dubai has been very instrumental in similar types of services especially providing shelter, food to underprivileged communities. Khalsa Aid stands out for being at the forefront offering relief services in crisis situations throughout the globe. There are many others who have come together to offer basic needs for the farmers movement in India. My big thanks to them all for their service and inspiring us.
Follow Karanbir’s work at his Facebook Feed
Images from March on Washington for Human Rights on March 30th, 2021