Jaskaran Sandhu: Stop Comparing The Truckers Convoy With The Farmers' Protest
Comparing the two, without factoring in their origins, goals, and state responses, is a false equivalence.
February 8, 2022 | 4.5 min. read | Opinion
It is tempting to equate the Farmers’ Protest that was blockaded outside of Delhi with the trucker convoy occupying Ottawa’s downtown and laying siege to Parliament Hill. The truth is, however, comparing the two, without factoring in their origins, goals, and state responses, is a false equivalence.
For those that watched the Farmers’ Protest unfold at Singhu Border and elsewhere over 2021, some of the images and videos coming out of the Freedom Convoy in Canada feel familiar. The permanence of the protest sites, after a long convoy, coupled with the disruption of a capital, are easy comparisons and parallels to draw.
For others, the reaction from the mainstream, at a first glance, also feels eerily similar. Accusations of foreign interference and funding from abroad to maintain the protest are common. Calls for the police, and even the army, to crack down on peaceful protestors is a daily occurrence. Some commentators suggest the protest is a threat to democracy, without any sense of irony. Mainstream journalists have expressed dismay at protestors shouting them off protest sites, godi media style. Words like sedition have also popped up more frequently to describe the protest, with some feeling it is only a matter of time before protestors are labelled as “anti-nationals”.
Some of these parallels have also driven a fair amount of attention from India as well, both in terms of general commentary as well as disinfo on the extent of Sikh involvement. The latter of which I covered in my article last week.
Justin Trudeau, the man who could not help but interfere in the internal affairs of India during the Farmers’ Protest, calling for greater dialogue along the way, is now hypocritically refusing to meet truckers in a similar fact scenario, many in India’s national media allege.
What Indian commentators miss though, and the right-wing Canadian commentators parroting and amplifying such statements, is why Trudeau commented on the Farmers’ Protest when he did.
His comments calling for greater dialogue and the right to peaceful protest came when speaking to a group of Sikh Canadians during a Gurpurab event which was held right around the same time as the Delhi Chalo farmers march from Punjab to Delhi in late November. The convoy would kick off what would become the Farmers’ Protest outside the Indian capital.
Trudeau’s comments came at a time when many in the local Sikh community were sharing concerns about seeing their loved ones, farmers in Punjab, face arbitrary and shocking Indian state violence including but not limited to tear gas, water cannons, and police lathi charges.
That context is important, considering the fact the Freedom Convoy met no such resistance or violence from the Trudeau-led state in entering Ottawa. In the end, approximately 700 farmers would die over the course of the Farmers’ Protest, primarily Sikhs - a minority population that has faced consistent state oppression, including a genocide.
The fact is that this is just one way in which the similarities and parallels end between the truckers' protest in Canada and the Farmers' Protest in India.
The Farmers’ Protest was always led and driven by farmers and labourers, and enjoyed almost universal support in the sector. Particularly so in the agricultural states of Punjab, Haryana, and UP. The same cannot be said for the trucker’s convoy. Many in the protest, including amongst the organizers and promoters, are not truckers and have no real connection to it.
The goals of the Farmers’ Protest were also always anchored on long-standing grassroots-driven calls for farming reforms, and immediately against the three farm bills suddenly brought by the Modi government in a haphazard way taking advantage of problematic parliamentary procedure.
It is often unclear what the ultimate goal of the trucker’s convoy is, on the other hand, which has evolved over the days. Many in the Canadian trucking industry, including large associations, have called out the protest for appropriating industry concerns over cross-border vaccine requirements with the United States for ulterior motives.
For example, it has also been widely reported that South Asian truckers in Canada, most of which hail from the Sikh and Punjabi community and make up a large portion of the sector, have in fact expressed dismay that actual industry and labour concerns, like exploitation and road safety, are being ignored in the protests, which have instead focused on general vaccine science and public health guidelines that apply to everyone in the country.
It was also seldom a question of who was in charge during the Farmers’ Protest, with farmer unions through the SKM officially overseeing it and various bodies and groups, including from the Sikh community, in support. Even the likes of Lakha Sidhana and Deep Sidhu deferred to SKM and the official asks, while also reminding Punjabi and Sikh demonstrators that the momentum of the Farmers’ Protest must be carried for other meaningful systemic reforms and changes afterwards.
The leadership and direction of the Freedom Convoy, however, are confusing and problematic, with various reports, including from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, linking some of the organizers and promoters to hate groups that again have nothing to do with trucking.
All these differences are important because the souls of these respective movements are not alike.
The Farmers’ Protest was shaped by Sikhi, and it manifested everywhere throughout it. Unlike the trucker’s convoy, which is widely despised by locals in Ottawa, the Farmers’ Protest uplifted the vicinities around it, feeding the poor, repairing infrastructure, even planting greenery along dusty roads. Locals around Singhu Border and other sites expressed sadness when the protestors eventually packed up and returned home, victorious in their immediate cause, because they did a better job than the government did in taking care of them.
That Sikhi even shaped the events of January 26 and the protest at the Red Fort, a site full of Sikh history for standing in defiance against oppression and tyranny, as I have written about before. Any attempts to connect the week-long blockade of Parliament Hill and Downtown Ottawa to the one-day protest at the Red Fort with historical pedigree is a lazy one.
Over the course of the Farmers’ Protest, the movement garnered empathy from around the world, including in India. The only counter-protests in Delhi were from far-right bodies, including pro-government and Hindutva goons that tried to firebomb protest sites and attack women.
In the end, you can criticize Trudeau’s handling of the situation in Canada and you can critique mandates. But, attempting to draw parallels between the Farmers’ Protest and the Freedom Convoy is not as persuasive as some may think it is.
Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Strategist at the public affairs and relations agency State Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_
Baaz is home to opinions, ideas, and original reporting for the Sikh and Punjabi diaspora. Support us by subscribing. Find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @BaazNewsOrg. If you would like to submit a written piece for consideration please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.