‘Right to Peaceful Protest Violated’: Maker of Super Bowl Ad

“My purpose was to create awareness and educate non-brown Americans,” said Raj Sodhi-Layne.

Updated
On Sunday, a 30-second advertisement funded by the Sikh community in the state’s Central Valley was aired right before the Super Bowl game, highlighting the ongoing Indian farmers’ protests against the Indian farm laws.
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The National Football League’s final game of the championship and the number one sporting event in US, the Super Bowl, is watched by more than 110 million fans.

The 55th Super Bowl was played between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, 7 February, in Tampa, Florida.

With more than a third of the country’s population watching and many more worldwide, Super Bowl has surpassed from a sporting event to also being a social and cultural event.

The main attractions that make the Super Bowl what it is are the TV commercials and the half-time show. Canadian artist, the Weeknd led the Super Bowl LV Halftime show this year.

On Sunday, a 30-second advertisement was aired in California's Fresno County before the Super Bowl game, highlighting the ongoing Indian farmers’ protest against the Indian farm laws.

It starts with a Martin Luther King Jr quote and features Mayor Jerry Dyer of Fresno, a large city in California’s farming belt.

In an exclusive interview to The Quint, the maker of the ad, Raj Sodhi-Layne told us why she chose the Super Bowl to screen the ad and what was the purpose behind it.

‘My Purpose Was to Create Awareness’

Raj Sodhi-Layne and her friends wanted to use the Super Bowl stage to highlight the issue of Indian farmers. They raised funds for it via ‘gofundme’, and a contract was signed between 'Fresno for Farmers' and Nextstar (KGPE-CBS & KSEE-NBC) to air the advertisement in Fresno County.

What was the purpose of this advertisement?

Raj: My purpose was to create awareness and educate non-brown Americans, because Indians here already know the issue. Why this is so important in my opinion, is that I believe in education and awareness. This message does not answer all questions or give out all the details, but makes Americans aware of the problems, which they can go on and learn about. There was a great caravan protest recently across the Bay bridge in San Francisco Bay Area, which is great, car rallies are nice, but how will everyone know what the issues are? We have to invite our white friends, Asian friends and Black friends to come and learn. Third generation Indians here don’t really know the details, because they grew up here and they don’t really care.

Do you belong to a farming community or have a farming background?

Raj: Yes, I did this for the legacy of my grandparents who were farmers – both my mother’s and father’s parents were farmers – for the sacrifices they made. It is not easy to leave one’s country. They left India in the 1960s for England. We all have families in farming, in India and in Fresno. California is the bread basket of the world and contributes $50 billion of the GDP through farming.

How can an advertisement on a TV station in US help Indian farmers, as this is an issue between them and the Government of India?

Raj: This is a worldwide issue, because it concerns farmers. Dr Martin Luther King said, “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”. Even though we are not there (India) physically, we are there in mind and spirit. What started as a peaceful protest in legal terms – the lack of media coverage and internet shutdown – became an exclusionary propaganda. We had lots of protests last year in this democratic country (USA) and the right (of Indian farmers) to peaceful protest has been violated. Indian government needs to repeal and start over.

How did the mayor of Fresno agree to feature in this video advertisement?

Raj: I am on the mayor’s advisory committee. I asked him to make a statement. I have known him for 30 years. We did an ‘ardas’ for the Indian farmers at our gurudwara, the Sikh Institute of Fresno. The mayor made a statement in his office, which was included in the video. He said that the government is for its people, not the other way round.

Did you fund the advertisement?

Raj: Two of my friends and I got together to make this. We were wondering this week if it was too late to get it ready for Super Bowl. We wanted it to be aired across 43 major US cities. That would have cost $825,000, and we were a bit late for that. I spoke with my local CBS general manager for rates of various advertisements. Then I started a ‘gofundme’ page and raised $11,123 within a day. My friend in LA, of ‘TEJI Video’ produced the advertisement. I know someone at CBS and I signed a contract with them. The advertisement was aired in Fresno County area.

Do you work in the media industry?

Raj: No, I know people. I am a retired banker, and I worked in banking for 36 years. We moved to the US from UK in 1981. I have been living in Fresno for 32 years.

What next?

Raj: I am working with some attorneys to bring this issue to United Nations, because of human rights.

The contract with CBS to air this advertisement was worth $10,000. The video will be telecast in the Fresno region on CBS another 10 times till the end of February. The contract also allows for a one-time appearance of Raj Sodhi-Layne in the CBS show ‘Central Valley Today’.

(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She tweets @SsavitaPatel. .)

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