Updated: February 9, 2021 7:15:00 am
Tapping into the massive audience that tunes in to watch ‘Super Bowl Sunday’ in the US, members of the Sikh community in California aired a crowdfunded commercial to highlight the farmers’ protest in India.
Indian-American banker Raj Sodhi-Layne and her friends put together the 30-second ad which was aired on CBS in Fresno County, right before the championship game of the NFL — the most-watched sporting event in the US that attracted 100.45 million viewers last year.
“Our initial goal was to raise $852,000 to air the ad in all 43 major cities across the United States. But we were a bit late for that,” Raj told The Indian Express over the phone on Monday.
“We had a Zoom call with CBS on Thursday noon and the ad, along with the $10,000 payment, was required by 3 pm Friday.”
Raj then set up a page on crowdfunding platform ‘GoFundMe’ and raised $11,123 within a day. The excess funds were donated to non-profit organisation ‘Seva For Everyone’. The ad was produced by local artist and producer Shar Singh of Teji Videos.
“He is sick due to Covid and the poor guy worked through Thursday night to get the lovely commercial done in time,” says Raj. Shar posted the commercial on his Instagram page with the caption: “An industry that feeds you is an industry worth fighting for. To most people, it’s dirty. To the farmer, it’s potential. If the farmer is rich so is the nation.”
The video was widely shared after its telecast — including by the likes of Indian-Canadian musician Jazzy B, whose post has since amassed 7,000 retweets and 24k ‘likes’ so far. The commercial opens with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr — one of the most powerful leaders of the Black rights movement in the US — “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. It then features footage from the protest and tweets by celebrities like pop icon Rihanna. It ends with a message from Mayor of Fresno, Jerry Dyer.
Raj, who serves on the advisory council of Dyer, invited Dyer to an ‘ardaas’ at the Sikh Institute on Saturday. She shares: “Mayor Dyer addressed those assembled at the Sikh Institute, saying: ‘in America and in Fresno, especially, the government works for its people. And I as the Mayor, serve my community’.”
The central San Joaquin Valley — home to a large population of Sikh communities and people who have relatives in Punjab — is also known as ‘the breadbasket’ as it supplies 8 percent of US agricultural output (by value) and produces a quarter of the nation’s food. Fresno County, specifically, tops national agricultural charts and produced $7.7 billion worth of crops in 2019.
“This is Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and I’m coming to you from the agricultural capital of the world — Fresno County,” Dyer said in the video message last week.
“Right here in the Valley, we understand the importance of farming and agriculture. And we want you to know that our brothers and sisters in India, we stand with you as you stand against the unfair government interference against all of you. We want you to know that you’re not alone.”
When asked what drove her to make the commercial, Raj, who was born and raised in Bradford, England before her family moved to the US in 1981, points at the visuals from the ongoing protests.
“When I look at the faces of the old men and women, they represent my grandparents. My grandparents on both sides were farmers and my grandfather’s land is still there in Punjab,” says Raj. “It’s the case for many and that’s why we have had so many car rallies, other protests in support of the farmers here in California. And the response to the video has been very positive… Maybe they can now go educate their own people and mayors. We hope the commercial could snowball that way.”
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