Regarding the Pain of Others: Farmer Protests, Decentering, and Caring

On December 20th 2020, in collaboration with Taraki, our conversation series Broken Punjabi met virtually to discuss the challenges experienced by youth in the diaspora in regards to the farmer protests.

Although the Broken Punjabi conversation series has historically focused on the impacts of alcohol on Punjabi communities, this conversation encapsulated the various ways in which our communities have been impacted by the farmer protests.

Here are some reflections from the lovely participants and facilitators.

Defining “decenter” 

How do we center the voices of those on the ground? This is not to say our voices are not important or necessary but that they do not have to be at the center of the conversation. This movement, in fact, is not entirely about us (the diaspora). 

Understanding the contexts of India and the diaspora are necessary if we wish to decenter diasporic voices. What is oppression in India? How does it differ from our definitions? Particularly here, facism, nationalism, and the intersections and layered lived realities of caste were brought up by attendees. If we as a community are able to have difficult conversations around caste and class, this “hashing out” will actually bring us closer together. Of course within it, de-centering includes taking care of ourselves so we can hold space sustainably, effectively, and understand our greater role within this movement. We can hold space for it all.

Supporting our elders

Many members of our families, constantly brought up wanting to go to the protests themselves, perhaps feelings of longing and wanting to be in solidarity are invoked. In thinking about how we can support older generations in the diaspora (our parents, grandparents, etc.) there was an emphasis on getting members of our families to simply start talking about how the protests are affecting them. However, simply asking “how does this make you feel?” can be a difficult question to ask and answer. 

When we say that our parents can’t communicate their feelings, we really mean they can’t communicate them in our way. How can we come closer to a mutual understanding? Participants suggested looking at body language, discussing what is happening as opposed to directly asking how it is making them feel, and educating through storytelling. Asking your parents to tell you a story in relation to events as opposed to directly asking about feelings can provide similar answers. Frequently, we focus on the obstacles that prevent us from reaching our common goal and not necessarily on what works. Discussing what works, can help us better understand how we can achieve our common goals. When discussing different ways of having conversations or asking questions to our elders, some participants brought up storytelling in casual spaces like on the couch when drinking cha. 

Our impact does not have to be earth shattering. Speaking with your family, bringing up the intersections of caste, colonialism, and capitalism can create spaces of mutual learning. Although older generations may not use the same language and categories that we function within, this doesn’t mean these conversations are beyond their capabilities. Through truly and actively listening, we can learn from older generations and challenge what we have perhaps always assumed to be true. As one facilitator pointed out, although her grandmother was not using the word “anti-nationalist,” she was making statements that aligned with the term (see: the Ghadar Movement). In conversations around caste, we can challenge our assumptions around the term by asking our parents what role it has played in their lives and how they’ve understood it. What is the Punjabi or Hindi term for caste? We don’t necessarily have all the answers, all we can do is learn from each other.

Sometimes these endeavours can be overwhelming so it is important to remember that as we try to support those around us, we must not forget about ourselves. Sometimes something as simple as going into nature can be cathartic. As outlined by a participant, rest is resistance, not indulgence. 

Long-term inspiration

Particularly poignant were conversations around how the protests have served as a great source of inspiration for many in the diaspora. However, how do we harness this momentary inspiration and make it sustainable? 

Various members of our communities are showing up and exercising their right to protest, realizing that they too are political beings. However, this also means that they may clash with those who have been continuously engaging with politics. This is not to say that there is one “right” way to protest but to think about how we can approach people at various stages of their politicization. How do people who have historically engaged in political endeavours, extend the same kindness that was shown to them before they gained a political consciousness? Participants also spoke about organizing with purpose, not just passion and engaging with all individuals without alienation. Some suggestions on how to do this included teach-ins in Punjabi and English, translating information (including memes!), and taking care of ourselves. 

Our conversation ended with a reflective letter writing activity where participants were prompted to write a letter on how we can be of use; either to folks on the ground there, or to family/friends immediately in our communities. Participants were also provided with resources to email their local MP through a sample letter and the contact information of Canadians MPs. 

Networks of Care

Looking after ourselves and creating networks of care is essential to keep a revolution going. We all migrate through systems differently, whether it be our politics or our everyday engagements. It is about meeting people where they have landed and moving together. This can be with individuals who are new to protesting and political dialogue or with individuals who engage in dialogue in a way that is not familiar to you. Caring for ourselves and others sustains and spans generations and revolutions. When we approach spaces with care, we can listen better and more imaginatively, creating places of safety to co-learn. 

But this doesn’t mean that the process doesn’t get exhausting. Ultimately, you just do enough and that’s all you can do. 

For more information on the farmer protests and mental health-related work, you can access our resource list

We hope this provided you with some insight into our conversation. If you are interested in joining future conversations, be sure to follow us on social media for updates:

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a place to keep me sane. a place to document growth. Reflections of a west coast dweller, world traveler, and confused med student.

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