Prime Minister Modi’s agricultural reforms, passed in September 2020, have led to what may be the world’s largest protest, with farmers coming from all over India and garnering worldwide support. They have been protesting at the border of New Delhi for months, asking for a repeal of neoliberal reforms that would hurt small farmers and perpetuate their exploitation.
The Indian government passed these acts without any prior consultation with farmers, and the leading party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, shut down any opposition immediately. These protesting farmers simply want to be heard, to reverse the precedent of ignorance and refusal to heed the farmers that has been set by the BJP.
For months the farmers have been gathering and protesting on the outskirts of Delhi, effectively blocking the borders. On January 26, India’s Republic Day, the farmers organized a tractor rally in which they actually entered the capital. There were planned routes, and leaders of farm unions were strict in their anti-violence stance.
Regardless, small groups of protestors broke off from the routes, storming India’s historic Red Fort. These protestors climbed up the walls of the fort, hoisting the Sikh flag at the top. The Red Fort is symbolic of Indian democracy, and was a key part of the freedom movement. By storming the fort and hoisting the Sikh flag, the mostly Punjabi protestors were claiming space in a political realm that has been denied to them in the past. Doing so sent a message to the government and the BJP that protestors will continue to claim their political rights and disrupt oppression in a physical manner if their demands aren’t met.
The tension between the centralized government in Delhi and Sikh’s has been long established. Sikh individuals have long faced persecution in India, starting with the Mughals and then by an independent India. This history is one of the driving forces behind the strength of these protests — Sikh’s have gone murdered and unheard for far too long, and now their livelihoods are being threatened by these hasty reforms. While the protestors are simply asking for the government to repeal these acts, this political action is symbolic of much more. It is a physical manifestation of Sikhs asserting their right to live and be heard.
It is a physical manifestation of Sikhs asserting their right to live and be heard.
These protestors were met with physical, violent resistance from the police, hitting them with batons and firing teargas. At this time, one protestor has been confirmed dead and many other protestors and police officers injured. Despite this, farmers continued to press on and have promised to continue protesting, some not returning home until Modi’s government has repealed the laws.
In response to the events of January 26, the government instituted an Internet shutdown in the camps where farmers have been residing during the last 4 months. This BJP used claims of “maintaining public safety and averting public emergency” to justify the shutdown, but the unfortunate reality is that this is a blatant overreach of governmental power. An Internet shutdown serves as a tool for suppressing and attempting to quell a potential revolution, and the Indian government continues to use it instead of actually listening to the people.
An Internet shutdown serves as a tool for suppressing and attempting to quell a potential revolution, and the Indian government continues to use it instead of actually listening to the people.
In addition to an Internet blackout, the Indian government placed political and legal pressure on Twitter to shut down hundreds of accounts that have been critical of the BJP and in support of the farmers. The government threatened to jail Twitter executives if they did not block these accounts and any content the government deemed a threat to national security.
Shutting down the Internet prevents any sort of incoming or outgoing contact between the farmers and larger society, and India has even sought to silence journalists and other news sources. Even so, the protests and events of January 26 have already garnered global attention. Celebrities like Rihanna and Greta Thunberg have tweeted in solidarity with the Punjabi farmers, and Thunberg even shared a toolkit for people who want to help globally.
This was received poorly by both the Indian government and Indian public figures. The Ministry of External Affairs issued a press release that claimed that the “temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible,” closing out the statement with the hashtags #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.
These hashtags have gained traction among large public figures, such as Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. Both of these figures have used their Twitter platform to speak out against the international support of the farmer protests, claiming that it compromises India’s sovereignty and that “external forces can be spectators but not participants.” Ranaut has been openly tweeting her opposition to the farmer protests, and has even gone so far as to claim that the farmers are “terrorists who are trying to divide India, so that China can take over our vulnerable broken nation.”
The BJP, having garnered the support of many celebrities, continues to stand with their original claim that these reforms are necessary and will be helpful for all farmers. They continue to ignore the demands of the farmers and protestors, refusing to even engage in discussion.
India’s pride in being the largest democracy in the world exists to hide the clear fascist-like suppression of any sort of dissent or dissatisfaction. These month-long protests that continue to erupt are illuminating the hypocrisy of India’s government and politics on a global scale, and will only continue to do so until India’s government actually demonstrates the democratic ideals it supposedly upholds.
Last updated 2/12/21
Feature photo credit: AP Photo/Dinesh Joshi
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