Justice for Indian Farmers: Saareyan Di Jugni And Sowing The Seeds Of Struggle In The Diaspora
As we pass the six month mark of the march to Delhi, we remind ourselves that ekta (unity-solidarity) disorients Hindutva forces
Simran Kaur Dhunna, Gursimran Singh, Parmbir Gill
May 28, 2021 | 5 min. read | Opinion
“Te jadon paani sir toh lang jaave pher chabna pehnda akk.
Te sanu hun lehne aunde saade haq,
kyon ke asi putar aan Guru Dashmesh Ji de!”
“When water runs over your head, you have to chew on bitter fruit.
Now we know how to fight for our rights,
because we are the children of Guru Gobind Singh Ji!”
On April 4, 2021, these powerful words echoed across a major intersection in Mississauga, Canada’s sixth-largest city.
They were spoken by a young Singh standing atop a flatbed truck, surrounded by a crowd of over one hundred youth, adults and seniors. Heads peeked out of nearby apartment buildings as two young Kaurs, both international students, then performed rousing speeches and a kavita by Sant Ram Udasi.
A banner with the words ‘Saareyan Di Jugni’ and ‘Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad’ written in 10 different languages stood next to them.
The takeover of the intersection was part of the latest demonstration - Saareyan Di Jugni - organized by members of the Sikh diaspora, including ourselves, to support the kisan-mazdoor andolan. It is just one example of the many solidarity protests over the last six months outside India.
Drawing on Panjabi folklore, Saareyan Di Jugni represented the andolan’s emergence as a leader in the global struggle against neoliberalism. It was also organized as a local response to Hindutva forces in Canada who celebrate the Modi regime and misrepresent the andolan as a religious or regional struggle.
In India, people from all segments of society participate in nationwide strikes, closures, and mass assemblies in support of kisan and mazdoor. Saareyan Di Jugni followed this lead: after holding the intersection, the crowd marched to a park and listened to speeches by a young Hindu woman from Uttar Pradesh, two Muslim speakers (one of whom was Tamil), and a Dalit activist from South Asian Dalit-Adivasi Network—Canada.
All speakers spoke passionately in support of the farmers and workers in Delhi while drawing connections between the andolan and other struggles in India against caste, religious bigotry, state violence, and corporate control. They showed that people of all faiths and backgrounds have a stake in this historic fight for farmers’ and workers’ rights led by Sikh Panjabis.
As we pass the six-month mark of the march to Delhi, we remind ourselves that ekta (unity-solidarity) disorients Hindutva forces, whose power is built on divisions propelled by the myth of Brahminical Hindu supremacy. Saareyan di Jugni rejected that myth, demonstrating communal solidarity and conveying to Hindutva groups that there is no space for them on our streets.
There is perhaps no other kaum that is as unwavering in its faith in collective victory against injustice as Sikhs. This Sikh spirit is reflected in a common refrain in the movement: “Saddi jitt pakki”—our victory is certain.
The andolan has already transformed those who joined it, and that is a type of victory on its own.
Joginder Singh Ugrahan, President of the Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) — the largest kisan union in the andolan, and one especially committed to building solidarity with mazdoor — recently remarked: “ik ithihaas dekhon ge, ik ithihaas likhya jau ga… Edeh vich ta asi bohot kuch ta jitt leya.” He refers by example to how the andolan has put an end to drug abuse among some Panjabi youth, inspiring them to kick their habits and fight for their futures on Delhi’s borders.
As part of a group of Sikh-Panjabi students and workers in Mississauga and Brampton, we, too, have been transformed by the andolan. Each solidarity action we organized over the past months — whether it involved blocking a road in front of the Indian consulate to do Ardaas for our shaheeds, or hosting an educational movie night under a COVID lockdown — has changed the way we think, act and relate to each other.
For example, our organizing has brought older and newer members of the diaspora together in ways that were previously hard to imagine. Organizing meetings are held in Panjabi and attended by youth on study and work permits as well as those born and raised here. Working together has brought us closer to Panjabiyat and Sikhi and has helped combat the isolation we face in a new country.
Our organizing is also teaching us about the collective labour that goes behind collective victory. Every person in the sangat has something to contribute, but they also have an opportunity to develop new skills and take on unfamiliar roles.
That is why we encourage a system of rotating responsibilities: someone who gives a speech at one action may help write the press release for the next one, while someone who has worked behind the scenes painting banners could give a media interview if they feel up to the challenge. Nurturing each others’ growth in this way allows us to fairly distribute both the challenges and the rewards of the work we do.
Clogging the arteries of an economy is a key tactic of any popular struggle, as kisan and mazdoor have shown by blocking railways, expressways, and toll plaza across North India. Yet another way the andolan has transformed us is by inspiring us to take the streets too. We have occupied Toronto’s two largest streets and marched through downtown Brampton in the spirit of the jurt (daringness) and jigra (resolve) of our relatives back home. To do this, we secured legal support, coordinated marshals to direct the crowd, and ensured that we had the numbers to safely and confidently demonstrate our sangat’s power.
While kisan and mazdoor till fields in Panjab, their sons and daughters toil in factories and warehouses in the diaspora. Kisan and mazdoor stand to lose their land and livelihood to corporations, while naujawan here face high tuition fees, wage theft, and precarious immigration status. Neither live and work in dignity. Both endure instability, crushing debt and exploitation.
The reasons for our shared realities are linked. After all, the Adanis and Ambanis of India are not unique to that country. They have counterparts in North America like Jeff Bezos and Dara Khosrowshahi, who, as the CEOs of Amazon and Uber, seek to deregulate vast swaths of the economy and crush worker organizing, all in the pursuit of greater profits.
The andolan, which was built up over many years by independently organized kisan and mazdoor, has shown the world what it takes to resist these neoliberal forces. It is not quick or easy work, it is not glamorous work, and it cannot be achieved without discipline and long-term commitment. But it has to begin somewhere. By learning how to organize with each other in the diaspora, we are sowing the seeds of that beginning here.
We owe that beginning to the andolan, and we will not forget it.
Simran Kaur Dhunna, Gursimran Singh, and Parmbir Gill are members of Justice for Indian Farmers-Toronto and residents of Mississauga and Brampton, Canada. You can find them on Instagram at @justice4indianfarmersto.
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