Letter from British Columbia Gurdwaras Council (BCGC) and Ontario Gurdwaras Council (OGC), dated 27 Nov 2020, to Canada foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne.
RE: Violent Crackdown on Punjab Protests in India
We are writing to you with the concerns of the Sikh community residing in Canada regarding the rising authoritarianism in India. Specifically, we are concerned about the repression of dissent witnessed during a farmer protest march from Punjab to Delhi over the past 48 hours. We write to ask you to fulfil your role by raising our concerns with your counterparts in India and condemning violent crackdowns against the protests.
This past September, the central government — taking cover behind the pandemic and various public health restrictions — forced three bills through Parliament which drastically impact the livelihood and futures of farmers across the subcontinent. Not only did the ruling government undermine its own institutions by circumventing debate in the Rajya Sabha, but it further undermined its own supposedly federal structure by unilaterally usurping authority delegated to individual states in the Indian union. This is a further example of the ruling establishment centralizing political power in Delhi under a government that is committed to functioning like an authoritarian regime.
Farmers associations across the subcontinent are concerned that unfettered liberalization of the agricultural sector will further exacerbate already stress-ridden communities by exponentially increasing debt leading to farmer suicides and driving down income with the eventual corporate takeovers of farmlands. In order to understand the concerns of Sikhs in Canada however, it is important to recognize the full context of these bills with regards to Punjab.
A vast majority of the population and economy in Punjab depends on the agricultural sector due to policies imposed by the central government. While this strategy turned Punjab into the ‘breadbasket of India’, it has come at the cost of vast economic and ecological devastation to Punjab itself. In combination with violating riparian principles to forcibly transfer river water to other jurisdictions without compensation, and unconstitutionally taking over the rights to the hydroelectricity generated by Punjab rivers, the imposed policies have resulted in rapidly drying up water resources in the region, skyrocketing cancer rates, higher levels of farmer suicides, and alarming levels of air pollution. As articulated by the protests on the ground, this is not just a matter of economic policy but a fundamental question of democracy: the right of Punjab to autonomously determine its own agricultural policy and tend to its own economic, social, and environmental needs.
Despite Punjab’s elected legislature passing statutes that would lessen the harsh impacts of the bills, the Delhi-appointed Governor has refused to sign the bills in order for them to become law–again, choking out one crucial avenue of remedy. In response to the call of farmers to converge in Delhi for a rally on November 26, hundreds of thousands began marching from Punjab in the past 48 hours. In response, security forces have sealed off highways, fired water cannons, and brutally beat countless protestors exercising their right to protest. This is once again another example of Delhi repressing Punjab’s right to protest and determine its own future.
There is a discernible trend towards authoritarianism, populism, and fascism around the world today and Canada has claimed a role in condemning violations and working to promote the right to protest in China, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. Canada must genuinely fulfill this responsibility and express its concerns with India as well. The rise of violent fascist rhetoric, the unilateral abrogation of Article 370 in relation to Kashmir and the recent citizenship amendment laws are clear illustrations of India’s authoritarian trajectory. As a member of the international community, Canada must ensure that its international partners are not trampling human rights, whether that be through genocidal violence or repressing basic civil rights like voting and protesting.
As you know, Sikhs in Punjab have been struggling to establish a just, peaceful political settlement in South Asia since the British Transfer of Power to the Indian state in 1947. When bids for autonomy through political agitation and civil disobedience were met with repressive state violence and genocide, it became clear that self-determination was only possible through the establishment of an independent, sovereign state, Khalistan. In 2020, the Indian state is still unwilling to respect or facilitate internal selfdetermination to any degree–again illustrating that sovereignty and independence are the only effective solution.
While we acknowledge that internal policy matters of a foreign country are subject to principles of noninterference with regards to the bills themselves, it is pivotal that Canada condemns India’s violent actions and supports the right to dissent in India as it does around the world. Sikhs all over the globe are watching closely as the Indian state is amping up its rhetoric while demonizing Sikh protestors. Historically, this pattern has preceded the legitimization of mass arrests, widespread violence, and human rights abuses.
We are asking that Canada fulfill its moral responsibility by exerting diplomatic influence with its international partners to support the right to self-determination–from individual rights to dissent, to the right of peoples to freely determine their political status.
Moninder Singh, Spokesperson, BCGC
Amarjit Singh Mann, BCGC Spokesperson, OGC
The Right Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, P.C., M.P.
The Hon. Erin O’Toole, Leader of the Opposition,
New Democratic Party of Canada Leader, Jagmeet Singh
GBloc Quebecois Leader, Yves-Francois Blanchet
BJP’s farming policies: Deepening India’s agrobusiness capitalism and centralisation (Asia Samachar, 18 Oct 2020)