Support for protesting Indian farmers grows in the United States

New Delhi accuses “vested interest groups” of trying “to mobilize international support against India.”

As the number of global celebrities and politicians showing solidarity with farmers protesting against three key pieces legislation continued to grow this week, several Indian American civil rights organizations and activists criticized the response of the Indian government.

Among those who have criticized New Delhi’s crackdown on the protesters include pop icon Rihanna, climate activist Greta Thunberg, actor John Cusack and Meena Harris, an Indian American activist and niece of Vice President Kamala Harris.

In the United Kingdom, lawmaker Claudia Webbe said she is planning to take a petition to the country’s parliament to urge the Indian government to ensure safety of protesters.

Farmers, especially in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, are demanding the repeal of the three controversial laws passed last year, saying that they will affect their livelihood.

Last week, on January 26, on the Republic Day, thousands of protesters who were storming the Red Fort were stopped by police using tear gas and batons. In subsequent days, local governments blocked major highways to New Delhi and also cut internet access in areas where protesters have gathered.

As the support for the protesters grew in the United States and other countries, the Indian government issued a press release on Wednesday stating that a “very small section of farmers in parts of India” have “some reservations” about the laws. It pointed out that respecting “the sentiments of the protestors,” the government “has initiated a series of talks with their representatives.”

READ: Indian American groups express solidarity with protesting farmers (February 1, 2021)

The press release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said the laws were passed by the “Parliament of India, after a full debate and discussion,” and these “reforms give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers” and “also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming.”

In a pointed reference to the growing criticism of its actions from the United States, the ministry said some “vested interest groups” have “tried to mobilize international support against India.”

It added: “Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken. The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.”

In the meantime, Indian American progressive activists criticized New Delhi’s actions.

Over the past weekend, at an online press meet hosted by the Global Indian Progressive Alliance, more than a dozen organizations condemned the laws and called for their repeal.

“The Indian ruling class is serving the interest of [billionaires Mukesh] Ambani and [Gautam] Adani and is not willing to listen to the people,” said Karthikeyan Shanmugam, executive member of Ambedkar King Study Circle, a grass root community organization that challenges caste, class, race, gender and religious oppression in the United States.

“On the one hand Government of India, tried to delegitimize the struggle by linking them with extremist groups like Khalistanis and the Maoists and on the other hand it tried to ridicule the farmer’s understanding. It’s a very usual response from the government of India to disparage any democratic voice as urban naxals,” he said.

READ: Sikh American group writes a second letter to Biden on farmers’ protest in India (January 29, 2021)

Shanmugam added, “The activists and the organizations in the USA raised their voice against anti people measure of the BJP regime in number of occupations such as Rohit Vemula’s institutional murder, Bhima Koregoan violence and arrests, Abolition of article 370 and splitting the J&K, Communal violence in Delhi, against CAA & NCR, against attack on Dalits and minorities and now the farmers protest. These are very democratic responses. During all these the organization kept themselves away from any separatist groups such Khalistanis or Kashmir separatists or the Maoists.”

Shanmugan related the experience at an Indian consulate in the United States during a similar protest in the past. “During the anti-CAA and NRC protest, it was evident when the anti-CAA people were kept outside the barricade of the Indian consulate in San Francisco, the pro-CAA people were allowed to raise slogans inside the protected area,” he said. “It’s the Ministry of External Affairs that divides the Indians in the diaspora rather than treat them equally.”

Many Indian Americans see the current struggle as the catalyst for something big. “January 26, 2021, marks the beginning of downfall for BJP and Indian PM Narendra Modi,” said Gurinder Singh Khalsa, founder of SikhsPAC, a political action committee based in Indiana. “Modi government is running on cheap tactics and polarization based on religion. The farmers’ protest is turning into the biggest ever revolution against crony capitalism of Modi government. This revolution is not just farmers’ revolution anymore. This is the beginning of a movement for better accountability. The world has now started reacting and mobilizing in support of this historic revolution by Indian farmers.”

READ: Amid protests in US, India defends new farm laws (December 21, 202)

Some Indian Americans pointed out that while US influencers like Rihanna are speaking out, many Indian celebrities are silent on the issue.

“Where is the support from famous South Asians in America? Where is the support from Bollywood celebrities? Do they not care about the farmers?” said Santa Monica based Sikh actor and model Amandeep Singh, who has appeared in popular shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“As a Sikh American, it breaks my heart, that my fellow Sikh brothers and sisters who have farmed for generations and have given their blood, sweat and tears are taken for a ride with horrible government policies,” he said. “Is this the India we know? We support our farmers and we will do whatever it takes to make sure they get their fair share.”

Shanmugan added, “We admire the sustained protests despite all nefarious attempts by the [Government of India] to dilute it. All three laws should be withdrawn and the Indian government should NOT leave the farmers to the mercy of the Indian and foreign capitalists.”

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