India farmers protests: US calls for ‘dialogue’ but defends Modi’s reforms

Several celebrities and activists globally have been tweeting support to protesting farmers in India 

Stuti Mishra
in Delhi
Thursday 04 February 2021 09:30
comments
<p>Indian authorities heavily ramped up security along three main protest sites outside New Delhi’s border, using cemented iron spikes, steel barricades and deployed hundreds of police in riot gear in their latest attempt to thwart the growing farmers’ protest on the edges of the capital</p>

Indian authorities heavily ramped up security along three main protest sites outside New Delhi’s border, using cemented iron spikes, steel barricades and deployed hundreds of police in riot gear in their latest attempt to thwart the growing farmers’ protest on the edges of the capital

The US on Wednesday urged the Indian government to resolve the deadlock in the ongoing talks with farmers, who have been agitating for months against three new farm laws, stating that unhindered access to information is fundamental to freedom of expression.

The state department said in a statement that it welcomed the "steps that would improve the efficiency of India's markets and attract greater private sector investment,” but encouraged the Indian government to resolve differences between the parties through dialogue.

"We recognise that peaceful protests are a hallmark of any thriving democracy and note that the Indian Supreme Court has stated the same," the US State Department said. “We recognise that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy,” it added.

The statement followed a global outpouring of support for the ongoing farmers' protest in India, including from singer Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg.

The statement is indicative of the support of the Biden administration towards farm laws passed by prime minister Narendra Modi's government in September that has triggered mass protests by farmers apprehensive that the new reforms will expose them to corporate interests.  

Farmers in India have set up camps around the borders of national capital Delhi. They have alleged that the new farm laws will favour big corporates and take away the protections provided to them by government-run markets, leaving them worse off. Several rounds of talks with the government have so far failed to break the logjam.

The situation became tense after a face-off between protestors and security forces on 26 January, India's annual Republic Day, after a tractor rally went off route, leading to a section of agitators storming the iconic Red Fort and clashing with the police. It led to the death of one farmer and injuries to several protestors and cops.

The Modi government, in its efforts to thwart the protests, has been restricting access to the camps by embedding iron spikes on roads, setting up barricades, shutting down the internet around the area, restricting media, blocking traffic routes, and cutting off power and water supply.

India's foreign ministry responded on Wednesday with a statement after global celebrities drew attention to the farmers' protest happening in India. It stated that parliament has passed a "reformist legislation" for the agricultural sector, which "a very small section of farmers" have some reservations about and asked them to get a “proper understanding” of the issue. The ministry's statement was followed by a Twitter storm by Indian artists using the hashtag "India against propaganda" to support the government's stand.

“The Government has even offered to keep the laws on hold, an offer iterated by no less than the Prime Minister of India,” the statement said.

Several American lawmakers have also come out in support of farmers.

"I am concerned by the reported actions against peaceful demonstrators protesting new agricultural reform laws in India," congresswoman Haley Stevens said.

"I will continue to monitor this situation closely. It has been particularly valuable to engage with stakeholders across the district on this topic and I remain appreciative to all who have reached out to share their perspective," Ms Stevens said.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar also expressed solidarity with farmers protesting for their livelihood.

"India must protect their basic democratic rights, allow for the free flow of information, reinstate internet access and release all the journalists detained for covering the protests," she tweeted.

Meena Harris, niece of US vice president Kamala Harris, also tweeted yesterday alleging that the world''s biggest democracy is “under assault.”

“We ALL should be outraged by India's internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters," she said in a tweet.

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