US lawmakers write to Pompeo on brutal treatment of protesting farmers in India

Pramila Jayapal
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the first ever Indian American woman elected to the House of Representatives, is among seven US lawmakers who have written to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing “serious concerns” about the brutal treatment meted out to farmers from Punjab peacefully protesting India’s new agricultural laws on the outskirts of Delhi

The lawmakers urge Pompeo to contact Jaishankar “to reinforce the United States’ commitment to the freedom of political speech abroad.”

While recognizing India’s sovereign right to determine its national policy, seven US lawmakers including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Democrat-Washington), the first ever Indian American woman elected to the House of Representatives, have written to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing “serious concerns” about the brutal treatment meted out to farmers from Punjab peacefully protesting the country’s new agricultural laws. The lawmakers have urged him to bring up the matter with his counterpart, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and to offer counsel.

Citing reports in the international press, the legislators noted, “protesting farmers from Punjab, who were marching peacefully to Delhi, were brutally subjected to water cannon attacks, barbed wire barricades, and tear gas by Indian security personnel”.

In their missive, they wrote that the harsh treatment of protesting farmers “is an issue of particular concern to Sikh Americans linked to Punjab, although it also heavily impacts the Indian-Americans belonging to other Indian states. Many Indian-Americans are directly affected as they have family members and ancestral land in Punjab and are concerned for the well-being of their families in India”.

Indian-Americans have held protests in various US cities to support the cause of farmers in India. In Washington, DC, the event took an ugly turn when so-called protesters defaced the statue of Mahatma Gandhi situated in a public space across from the Indian Embassy. Attributing the vile deed to “Khalistani elements”, the embassy strongly condemned the “act by hooligans masquerading as protesters against the universally respected icon of peace and justice”. Indian officials lodged a complaint with US law enforcement agencies and requested the State Department to take appropriate action against the culprits.

RELATED: US lawmakers say Indian farmers protest impacts Indian Americans (December 28, 2020)

Such acts by extremists in foreign countries mar the cause of farmers in Punjab and neighboring states who are participating in round-the-clock peaceful sit-ins to repeal reforms which they fear will erode their income.

The bone of contention are three new agricultural laws which the Indian government maintains will allow farmers more freedom to sell their produce in wider markets and to various buyers such as large traders, retailers and food processors. The aim is to link bulk buyers such as Reliance, Walmart, and Adani Enterprises directly with the growers, bypassing regulated wholesale markets.

Farmers believe the laws threaten their livelihood by lowering crop prices and have been implemented to favor large corporations at their expense. They fear that once the regulated markets are dismantled, the government may stop buying staple crops at guaranteed prices and mega companies will dominate the farm sector.

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been camped on the outskirts of Delhi, braving frigid temperatures, since late November. A series of talks between the government and growers has so far failed to break the logjam.

Describing the situation as “serious”, the US lawmakers urged Pompeo to contact Jaishankar “to reinforce the United States’ commitment to the freedom of political speech abroad”.

RELATED: Amid protests in the United States, India defends new farm laws (December 21, 2020)

They wrote, “As national legislators, we respect the right of the government of India to determine national policy, in compliance with existing law. We also acknowledge the rights of those in India and abroad who are currently protesting peacefully against agricultural laws that many Indian farmers see as an attack on their economic security”.

Together with Jayapal, the letter was signed by Rep. Donald Norcross (Democrat-New Jersey), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Republican-Pennsylvania), Rep. Brendan Boyle (Democrat-Pennsylvania), Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (Democrat-Pennsylvania), Rep. David Trone (Democrat-Maryland), and Rep. Debbie Dingell (Democrat-Michigan).

The lawmakers noted, “The US-India relationship is a source of pride and prosperity for both nations. We share democratic values, strive for economic equality and embrace our diversity. As a nation that is familiar with political protests we believe that the United States can offer counsel to India during their current period of social disturbance”.

Earlier this month, Rep. John Garamendi of California, Democratic co-chair of the American Sikh Caucus, together with Rep. Jim Costa (Democrat-California) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (Democrat-Texas) dispatched a letter to Indian ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu voicing their concern about “India’s recent crackdown on protestors”, expressing solidarity with the farmers and defending their right to peacefully protest the new laws.

ALSO READ: Secretary Pompeo and  Jaishankar discuss US-India cooperation to combat COVID-19  (April 1, 2020)

“We urge the Indian government to demonstrate its respect for these crucial democratic freedoms, and be a model of democratic values in the vital Indo-Pacific region”, the lawmakers said in their letter.

The Indian government has stated it “understands that farmers may have concerns as reforms are introduced and options are expanded to market their produce” and it remains committed to engaging with the farmers and addressing their concerns. Already some five rounds of talks have been held between the government and growers without any resolution. A crucial meeting is scheduled for December 30 which aims to end the deadlock over the farm laws.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.