Hundreds in Sacramento protest India’s farming laws, block I-50 traffic

Thousands gather at Sacramento State on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, to protest India’s new farming laws, which advocates say will make it easier for Punjabi farmers to be exploited. Karam Singh Thousands of protesters blocked traffic on Highway 50 in Sacramento during a day of protest against India’s new agricultural […]

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Thousands gather at Sacramento State on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, to protest India’s new farming laws, which advocates say will make it easier for Punjabi farmers to be exploited.

Karam Singh

Thousands of protesters blocked traffic on Highway 50 in Sacramento during a day of protest against India’s new agricultural laws, which advocates say will cut Punjabi farmers’ profits and make it easier for large corporations to drive them out of business.

The implications, organizers say, can be felt a world away in California, which has nearly 300,000 Indian Americans, and the U.S., one of India’s key trading partners.

“I think it’s about time … to show the people that are protesting (in India) that we’re with them,” said Karam Singh, one of the organizers.

The Sacramento protest followed the car rally held two weeks ago that drew protesters from seven California cities in a massive wave to the East Bay. Protests have sparked around the world in response to India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new agricultural laws, which deregulate the agricultural market and allow farmers, many of whom are Punjabi and Sikh, to sell their goods to any company for any price.

“I think it’s going to be a wake-up call for the Modi government,” said Singh, who works with the California Sikh Youth Alliance. “You can’t suppress protesters (in India) in such a brazen fashion and not expect outrage.”

Saturday’s protest was organized by several Sikh organizations, including the California Youth Sikh Alliance, the Capital Sikh Center of Sacramento and the Jakara Movement. The rally brought opponents to the proposal from Fremont, Yuba City, Manteca, Turlock, Fresno and Stockton, according to the organizers.

Cars first gathered in one of Sacramento State’s largest parking lots, where several leaders gave speeches and made prayers. Some protesters showed up in a school bus and sat on its roof playing drums, and many brought handmade signs with messages such as “No Farmers, No Food” and “People > Profit.”

Protesters then drove west in a caravan on Highway 50, blocking traffic on roadways to downtown with motorcycles, cars and even tractors. According to Singh, about 2,000 vehicles formed the caravan.

According to organizers, the Indian government’s new laws, passed in September, eliminate the minimum standard price farmers were previously guaranteed for their crops. Advocates fear this will make it easier for large agricultural companies to squeeze profits from smaller farmers by forcing them to compete with lower prices, which could lead to them having to fold or sell to these larger outfits.

India is one of America’s largest agricultural producers, bringing $2.6 billion into the country — including spices, rice, natural oils and produce — according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.

Many members of the protests, including some of California’s roughly 5,500 farmers of Asian descent, can trace their roots to the Punjab region, known as India’s bread basket.

Ashley Wong covers Sacramento’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community for The Sacramento Bee in partnership with Report for America. A graduate of University of California, Berkeley, she has written for USA Today and the East Bay Express.

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