As farmers protest in India against harmful farming policies, University of Wisconsin South Asian student organizations across campus have banded together to raise awareness and funds.

Farmers across India have been protesting three agricultural laws passed in late September under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the majority party in the Indian Parliament, believes the new laws will not hurt farmers, according to the BBC.

Unconvinced, people across India have been protesting in their local states since the legislation passed. In late November, thousands of protesters took to the streets in India’s capital in Delhi, blocking major commuter paths and roads in and around the city.

Most of the farmers protesting are from Punjab and Haryana — two North Indian states that face major consequences from the new laws, according to The Times of India. Punjab is often called “the Bread Basket of India” due to the prevalence of farming in the region.

Farmers from these areas are worried the new laws will remove the protection of minimum sale prices and allow corporations to hurt the agricultural industry. With their cause reverberating across the globe, the effects of these protests reached the UW campus.

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Lead of the External Relations Team for the India Students Association Ravina Sachdev said South Asian organizations teamed up for an initiative to raise money for Sahaita, an organization that provides aid to farmers and their families in Punjab.

The UW student organizations involved include ISA, the Wisconsin School of Bhangra, Wisconsin Waale, Wisconsin Surma, the Sikh Students Association, Wisconsin Rangde, the Muslim Students Association, Aa Dekhen Zara and the Pakistani Students Association.

These organizations are encouraging their members and their communities to Venmo @isauwmadison to donate to Sahaita. According to ISA’s Instagram page, United Health will be matching these donations up to $15,000.

Sikh Students Association Executive Board member Simran Kaur Sandhu said in a statement to The Badger Herald that SSA got involved for several reasons, one being the bare minimum news coverage of the protests in the U.S. and India. SSA educates the UW campus on the Sikh religion to create a safe space for Sikh students.

The Punjabi culture is heavily based in farming,
where 80% of the population is involved in agriculture, Sandhu said. 
According to the Food Corporation of India, Punjab accounted for about 38% of India’s wheat production and about 21% of India’s rice production from 2019-20.

“We believe that UW students have a right to know that this crisis is happening and that issues happening on the other half of the world are relevant to them because we believe that they have the ability to use their voice and stand in solidarity,” Sandhu said. “The rights of farmers in India is a direct cause of neoliberalist globalization, which has been the downfall of food systems across the world.”

Though the legislation affects all farmers in India, Sandhu said all individuals in SSA are Punjabi and many of members’
grandparents and relatives are farmers.

While the farmers’ crisis is not a religious issue, Sandhu said several aspects of Sikhi are visible in these protests because Punjabi culture and Sikhism are very interconnected.

“As Sikhs, we have fought for the advocacy of disadvantaged folks as it is one of our core Sikh tenets to stand up for justice,” Sandu said. “This issue is a nationwide problem for farmers in India, and the Punjabi Sikhs have made it very clear this issue affects all people. No farmers, no food.”

Wisconsin School of Bhangra Co-Director and Public Relations Board Member Manleen Rajput said one of their members Renee Kar-Johnson and Sifar Streetwear also created a fundraiser to raise money for Khalsa Aidanother organization aiding farmers — by selling long sleeve shirts. All proceeds will also be matched.

Rajput emphasized the importance of spreading awareness for the protests, specifically as a bhangra dance team because bhangra originated from Punjab and is usually associated with the harvest.

“Everything going on stemmed from Punjab, and everything that we do and everything that bhangra is has to do with farmers — that’s the reason [bhangra] even exists,” Rajput said. “It’s super important for us to call attention to the protests — even from oceans away.”

One of the captains of Wisconsin Surma Nikita Menon echoed Rajput and also highlighted the importance of paying respect to the roots of bhangra.

As a South Asian group, Menon said many people in their community are also directly affected by the protests in Punjab.

“For Surma and [WSB], since we do dance bhangra … we believe that knowing what’s going on in Punjab, especially because it pertains to farmers, is kind of essential to be able to pay respect to the art form that we dance,” Menon said.

Executive Director of Aa Dekhen Zara Divya Pariti said their group organizes an Indian dance competition that hosted both fusion and bhangra teams, and many of its members are affected by the protests.

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“A lot of the ADZ board members and event managers and liaisons are part of the bhangra community, so we wanted to make sure that we were taking this initiative seriously because this is something that’s impacting the Indian community that deserves our respect,” Pariti said. “What’s going on right now is a violation of [the farmers’] human rights, and we want to do anything possible to help.”

Sachdev said ISA believes these protests are not an issue that only impacts the South Asian community.

She referenced an Instagram post that listed many goods that come from Indian farmers that people around the world use, such as spices, medicines, rice and cotton.

“These aren’t just protestors that I support, these are people who directly provide for me and my livelihood,” Sachdev said. ]

These organizations will be taking donations via Venmo @isauwmadison for the next two weeks.