Sydney, N.S. — India’s capital of New Delhi may be more than 11,500 kilometres from Cape Breton, but the vast distance did little to deter those taking part in a Sunday protest on the streets of Sydney in support of farmers in the world’s second-most populous country.
An estimated 200 people, mostly international students from the Indian “sub-continent,” crammed into about 60 vehicles for a noontime car rally that began behind Centre 200, paraded through downtown Sydney and wrapped up at the Mayflower Mall. The peaceful protest was organized by Cape Breton University public administration student Arshdeep Singh, a native of the mostly agricultural Punjab state.
“This is all about showing our support to the thousands of farmers back home who are already out protesting three agricultural bills that the Indian government passed — that legislation is very unconstitutional and is bad for democracy,” said Singh, who is also a member of the CBU men’s varsity basketball team.
“It’s no good for farmers — no farmers, no food.”
Over the past week, tens of thousands of farmers have travelled to New Delhi to protest legislation passed by the Indian government in September. The farmers contest that the laws passed in September will leave them vulnerable to corporate exploitation, while the government counters that the legislation will give India’s farmers more power to set prices and sell directly to private businesses such as grocery stores and distributors.
And for a country with an agricultural sector that employs an estimated 250 million people, it has become a very big issue. Indeed, protests over the legislation and displays of support for Indian farmers have been taking place around the world.
Even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently weighed in on the issue.
“This situation is concerning and I know many of you are very worried about family and friends,” Trudeau said in a recent public address.
“Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest. We believe in the importance of dialogue and that’s why we’ve reached out through multiple means to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns. This is a moment for all of us to pull together.”
The Prime Minister’s words were certainly heeded in Sydney. Protestors began gathering behind Centre 200 just before 11 a.m. and by the time the police car escort turned on its lights and began to move there were at least five dozen vehicles lined up and ready to go.
The slow-moving procession headed north on George Street before turning left on Dorchester Street and then continuing south down Charlotte Street. The parade followed Townsend Street past Sydney Academy and then continued east up Prince and Welton streets to the Mayflower Mall.
The parade caught the attention of motorists and pedestrians, many who were unsure about what the rally was all about. Some native Cape Bretoners, like Crystal Costigan of New Waterford, opted to take part in the rally.
“I have very good friends here and we decided to come out to support them,” said Costigan, who was a passenger in a car driven by friend Tammy Musgrave.
Other parade participants included Jyoti Chaudhary and Narjat Kaur Bagui. Both CBU students are from farming families in India and were proud to wear T-shirts that proclaimed them to be daughters of farmers.
“We are very far from home, but we know our support will help,” said Chaudhary.
“We would do this if we were home so that is why we chose to come out today. We are very worried about what is happening.”
Upon its completion, rally-goers gathered in the parking lot of the Mayflower Mall. And, as a curious crowd of shoppers came closer to find out what was happening, the parade participants waved their signs and chanted slogans in support of farmers on the other side of the world.
India may be located halfway around the earth, but with the click of a button pictures and videos were instantly transmitted to the sub-continent to the families and friends of those present at the Cape Breton rally of support.