Sikhs Protest New Indian Agriculture Laws Outside the Indian Consulate in Houston

By Robert Downes

Houston: Demonstrators, mostly from the Sikh community, gathered to protest against several farm laws that change India’s agricultural system.

Sikhs in Houston are calling on the Indian government to end new agriculture laws that they say will cripple already meager profits for farmers in the country’s Punjab region.

On Monday, a few hundred people gathered outside the Indian embassy near Buffalo Bayou to criticize the new rules, which the Indian government passed in September as part of a broader effort to deregulate the nation’s massive agriculture sector.

But farmers — many of whom faced economic headwinds even before the Indian economy entered into a recession earlier this year — fear that the new policies will allow large companies to bully them into lower prices and, potentially, sales of their farms.

Particularly worrisome, demonstrators said, are changes to a minimum price point for the billions of dollars in products — namely rice and wheat — that the Indian government normally purchases from farmers each year.

Several hundred people gather to protest in front of the Consulate General of India, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, in Houston. The demonstrators, many members of the Sikh community, gathered to protest against several farm laws that change India’s agricultural system. Similar protests are taking place in other cities.

The Indian government has defended the changes as necessary for the country’s “one market, one nation” strategy, and say that the reforms will give farmers more market choice and power.

“The bills are addressing deficiencies that the farmers have spoken about before,” said Aseem Mahajan, consul general for India in Houston. “They give the farmers the freedom to sell their produce to who they want.”

Similar protests have occurred in multiple major American and Canadian cities in recent days and, in the Indian capital of New Delhi, demonstrators have been blocking major roads for the last 10 days. Talks between agricultural and government leaders are ongoing.

Taj Kaur, a 24-year-old whose parents farmed in India before immigrating to Houston, called the rules a “violation to human rights and the democracy of India.”

“Democracy is a government of the people, not a government of private corporations,” she said, adding that many farmers have long felt ignored by the Indian government despite helping sustain the country’s food supply as its population boomed past 1.3 billion people.

Some in the Monday crowd wore patches or held signs noting a wave of anti-Sikh violence that killed thousands in the Punjab region in 1984.

“This time we won’t be silent,” she said. “We will make sure the people of Punjab are heard in every part of the world.”

America is home to roughly a half-million Sikhs, whose faith is centered on justice and “love-inspired service,” and an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 live in the Houston area, according to the Sikh National Center.

Many protested Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s trip to Houston last year amid his administrations violent crackdowns on Muslim rights in Kashmir.

Those protesting on Monday said they were doing so to protect the rights of all Indians, regardless of their faith.

“This is not about a Sikh agenda,” said Gurpreet Singh, a member of the Sikh Coalition, which organized the rally. “This is about Punjab and farmers.” — Houston Chronicle