Jas Kaur is determined to win over members of other expatriate Indian communities to the side of Indian farmers protesting new laws there that they consider unfair and exploitative.
“It has been hard for me, reaching out to other communities. It has been a little bit hard because there has been a narrative in some of the other Indian communities that are supporting the Modi government," said Kaur, a 25-year-old health-care worker who took part in a march through Malton last weekend.
The protest was the latest in a series put on by the Justice for Indian Farmers TO group of mostly Sikh-Punjabi youth in Brampton and northeast Mississauga, an enclave northwest of Toronto where a large portion of Canada’s immigrants from India reside.
While the efforts aim to pressure the Indian government of Narendra Modi to reverse three related laws pushed through last year and to boost morale among the tens of thousands of farmers camping out around the capital Delhi with the same goal, Sunday’s march was also about trying to change opinion here.
Kaur said she has received pushback when talking about the issue with friends who are not from Punjab, an Indian state with a Sikh majority and a well-developed farming economy that relies on government-controlled wholesale markets and assured minimum prices.
“It's not even their fault,” she said. “It's what is being said. The narrative of the Indian news is basically showing that the protests are just Punjabis or Sikhs or that it's a fight between Sikhs and Hindus."
"There were some pro-Modi rallies that happened recently in Brampton, so there is a lot of education that needs to be done," Kaur acknowledged.
The reforms loosen rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce that have protected India's farmers from the free market for decades, allowing private buyers to wield more influence, a move which farmers fear will weaken and eventually destroy the public market.
"We are standing by all the farmers. It is not a Sikh versus Hindu or Muslim and all that. They're all together, and we stand with the farmers," says Jas Kaur.
“Then farmers don’t have this baseline minimum price offered by the government market, especially in times of crisis, if there is a change to the climate and their crops fail,” said Simran Dhunna, another of the GTA protest organizers.
Dhunna said a fourth goal of the group is to connect the struggle against a Hindu nationalist government in India with opposition to agri-business practices and pipelines through Indigenous lands in Canada.
"Those are the types of links we are trying to make to build solidarity with other workers, farmers, and oppressed communities, Indigenous communities here," she said.
The weekend rally included speakers from several other Indian communities, including a Hindu friend of Kaur’s, a speaker from a Dalit advocacy group, and Muslims from two different ethnic groups who linked the struggle with that against another recent change in Indian law that specifically excludes undocumented Muslims from citizenship.
"We are seeing progression for sure, and we're really hopeful to get more involved with other communities," said Kaur, who has been involved in the efforts since the end of January.
"We are standing by all the farmers. It is not a Sikh versus Hindu or Muslim and all that. They're all together, and we stand with the farmers."
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer