Vineet Mehmi is a sophomore politics major.
In Hindi, the phrase “Inquilab zindabad!” means “Long live the revolution!” This was the rallying cry shouted by Indian revolutionary Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh in 1929 in front of the high courts of Delhi during the Indian Independence Movement. 100 years later, the same phrase and fight that Bhagat Singh died for once again fills the air of Delhi — this time from hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers who are fighting for freedom from the oppression of a government that wants to take away their property rights to their ancestral lands and give control to corporations.
This injustice, although halfway across the globe, demands our urgent attention. Our call for social justice must extend beyond what affects us individually.
The oppression of farmers taking place in India should be important to more than just members of the Indian community — but to members of every race and nationality as well. As Americans, we are privileged with freedoms and rights that citizens of third world countries are often not allowed. This is demonstrated in our Bill of Rights which grants us the freedom of press and assembly. As we fight for racial and socioeconomic equality, voting rights, women’s rights, and more in the U.S., we must also support our neighbors in India endeavoring to do the same. We should not be hesitant to extend help to and engage in solidarity with those across the globe whose rights and liberties have been trampled upon.
Those marching in the ongoing farmers protest, which began in 2020, have been fighting three laws which were undemocratically passed by India’s Congress without the approval of the majority of the population: the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce, which regulates where farmers are allowed to sell their crops, the Farmers Agreement of Price Assurance Act, which regulates the private trade between farmers and buyers, and the Essential Commodities Act, which allows the government to regulate the supply of food items.
These laws are problematic because they take away farmers’ control of their own crops and instead give control of them to the government and the upper class. The laws allow the government to decide what product is sold, where it is sold, and for how much. This regulation is extremely devastating for grassroots farmers in a country where agriculture is the livelihood for 58% of the population. For example, one of the bills would make it more difficult to compete with corporate farming. The opening of corporate markets would make it so that local selling areas called “mandis” would be closed and farmers would be forced to travel long distances to sell their products. This is devastating because the majority of the farmers cannot afford to do this, while corporate farms can.
This is not the first time my people — the farmers and Punjabi population who are protesting — have been oppressed. There is a long history of governmental marginalization in India that has led up to this movement. The 1947 Partition of India led to the slaughter of Punjabi people (this included those in Punjab, Pakistan). In 1984, the Indian government attacked the Sikhs, a religious group in India, and stormed their most sacred religious place, Sri Harmandir Sahib (popularly known as the Golden Temple), which inspired the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots during which thousands were slaughtered.
Although the ongoing unrest in India may not immediately affect us, it is one of the largest protests in human history, as “tens of thousands of farmers marched to the capital to protest proposed new legislation and upward of 250 million people around the subcontinent participated in a 24-hour general strike in solidarity.” It reached San Francisco when hundreds of Bay Area residents shut down the Bay Bridge and circled the Indian Consulate General Dec. 5, 2020 to protest in solidarity with the farmers in India.
Just as Bhagat Singh acted on his rallying cry to call for change long ago, at USF we are called to change the world from here, so we must raise awareness to support Indianfarmers and expose the oppression they are facing. Even if it is a simple post on social media listing resources and ways to get involved, taking action in any way helps stand in solidarity with this cause. It is vital we become committed to changing the world from here and bravely extend our social justice to a global scale beyond what immediately affects each of us individually.