Ishaan Nandwani, Contributing Writer
I am the proud child of immigrant parents from the Indian state of Punjab. My mother was born and raised in Amritsar, the cultural and commercial center of Punjabi culture. Back home, my relatives work as educators, construction workers and farmers, with the latter serving as the backbone of our state’s economy.
But while us college students go about our daily lives here in the U.S., the largest protest in world history is happening right now on the soil of my ancestors.
For those of you who aren’t aware, the farmer protests of India are ongoing demonstrations that commenced in August, following the passing of three farm bills by the Indian parliament signed into law by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
These bills allow for the privatization of the sale of farmers’ harvest, threatening the minimum support prices established by the government and the livelihoods of millions of farmers.
Expectedly, the passage of these bills caused an outcry that roared across Punjab and neighboring states. Given the emphasis on farming in India’s economy, this decision is clearly one that hurts the people that the government claims to serve.
The protests, as a result of this decision, are reminiscent of those against police brutality last year in the United States. Punjabis and farmers have marched from Punjab to the Indian capital of New Delhi, reaching an estimated crowd size of 250 million. Some were so dedicated, they carried rations for up to six months. These protesters have been met with tear gas and violence by the police force, yet their resolve and spirit remains strong.
As a Punjabi American far from home, these protests have been heartbreaking to witness. The opportunities I have in America are possible because of the generations that came before me, and it’s difficult to feel removed from the fight happening in my motherland.
As I write this, millions of protesters are fighting for their lives; their income, families, and freedom of expression hang in the balance. However, I see little discussion and discourse over these events. Just because they’re not happening here in the U.S. does not mean they are any less important.
The media has turned a blind eye to coverage of this critical period in Indian history. Indeed, many of my Indian American friends, who have directly benefited from the sacrifice of Punjabi farmers, are unaware of the issues that are affecting these farmers.
In fact, the first notable moment that sparked conversation of the protests in the West was after Rihanna tweeted about them, citing a CNN article reporting on the internet shutdown in New Delhi as a means of silencing the spread of information to and from the farmers protesting.
— Rihanna (@rihanna) February 2, 2021
Despite this seemingly simple gesture, Rihanna’s tweet led to a massive reckoning across the world. Images of Rihanna are being burned by the counterprotesters in India, and millions of Americans are participating in dialogue surrounding the scale of the protests for the first time.
The ability of one celebrity to incite conversation over these protests across the nation speaks volumes to the lack of attention they are receiving. Keep in mind, these are no ordinary demonstrations; the size of these protests have eclipsed that of any other protest in human history.
As college students, we are in positions of privilege with ample resources like access to information and the ability to demonstrate, as we’ve seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
We must do more. We can do more.
The best place to start is having conversations about these protests with your family and friends. Speak up on social media. Sign petitions. Donate through some great organizations below. Call on the U.S. government to condemn the Indian government for their actions.
Sometimes, we feel removed from international issues like these protests, but they’re closer to us than we realize. These protests are a reflection of structures of power taking advantage of the vulnerable. We can’t let the oppressors win.
Organizations accepting donations to support farmers:
Save Indian Farmers: www.saveindianfarmers.org