Submission to The Social Lens: A Social Work Action Blog by Jasman Dhillon, Anisha Mahal, Sunny Manhas and Aneesh Vashisht
We, students from the School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, stand firmly in solidarity with the over 250 million farmers in India who have been peacefully protesting against new agricultural laws. As descendants of India, we write to express our unconditional support for farmers in India as they struggle against a government that seeks to remove their ancestral rights to farm on their lands. We write from the stolen and ancestral lands of the Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh). While we are compelled to speak out against State violence in India, we also acknowledge state violence against the First People of Turtle Island that characterizes Canadian history and continues into the present day. Just last year we witnessed the state violate Canadian law and commitments to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as militarized RCMP invaded Wet’suwet’en territory, arresting Indigenous elders, women and youth who sought to protect their sovereign lands from economic development projects. While we can condemn the violence of the Canadian State, we are cognizant that we benefit directly from the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their land. We also recognize that as immigrants we support settling and perpetuating colonization of these lands.
The climate of democratic protests in India for the safety of farmers’ livelihood has been shaping since September 2020, but has only started gaining international recognition within the last month. The farmers are demonstrating against bills that were enacted without the consultation of agricultural associations or members working in agriculture, yet risks financial uncertainty for over 500 million farmers within India by deregulating the crop market and removing guaranteed minimum crop prices. This act effectively allows farmers to be undercut. Therefore, it risks not only their guaranteed income but also denies their ancestral right to work on their land. This class disparity has been evident throughout India’s history, highlighted in the modern day by the Sikh genocides of 1984 and the Tamil farming protests of 2017. The continuous narrative describing the Sikh population as terrorists is apparent under the State’s portrayal of those protesting. Similar to previous demonstrations in 2017, suicide rates are increasing due to State neglect.
While the Indian media is portraying these peaceful farmers as “terrorists” and “extremists,” it is the Indian government engaging in terrorist acts towards the farmers. The agenda to create a negative image of protesters is ongoing. In a press meeting at the beginning of February, Prime Minister Modi referenced protesters as “Andolan Jivis,” implying that those who are fighting against this bill are parasitic and that the nation should be cautious of these groups. In the same meeting, Modi openly invited farmers to answer the question of whether these bills have taken away any of their life conveniences, and claims that no farmer has felt the negative effects of the bill, yet has not had a conversation with any farmers negotiating the new bills. By passing a bill without consultation and to claim that no farmer can say it affects them negatively, Modi has falsely represented the farmers and has called them incompetent, but fails to acknowledge the potential future devastation that the farmers may face. Indeed, the effects of the bill may not have ruined the livelihoods of farmers yet, but when the talons of neoliberal privatization begin to choke the agricultural market, the farmers will also be suffocated. These bills are a corporate takeover of agriculture, and the farmers are the last line of defence.
Since demonstrations began in September 2020, non-violent protesters, many of whom are veterans and elderly, have been met with unnecessary force. The Indian government has used tear gas, water cannons, and barricades to prevent protesters from leaving demonstration sites. As the protests continue, the Indian government has been escalating tactics to suppress dissent. This includes kidnapping journalists and protesters who are being unlawfully detained, cutting water sources at protest sites and harassing and beating those in peaceful protest. In a fascist move by the Indian government, the state has censored protesters to conceal state-sanctioned violence and brutality by suspending Internet access for days at a time. It is critical to state here that women who have been detained have reported experiencing sexual violence, including sexual assault and rape while in police custody. Further, many farmers have sustained severe injuries and even lost their lives, with the death toll above 250—a number that continues to rise.
Although Prime Minister Modi colludes with Twitter to remove and/or suspend thousands of accounts that advocate and spread awareness for the protestors, he cannot silence the powerful voices of farmers in India. Social media has proved a useful tool in the farmers’ resistance, as those on the ground share first-hand accounts of the protests. From afar, we have watched horrifying videos of unarmed, non-violent elders being arrested and brutally abused in the streets of Delhi. The protests gained widespread international attention since Rihanna tweeted, asking why nobody is talking about the farmers’ protests. While farmers and their allies in India have been speaking out for months, Rihanna amplified their message, sparking global expressions of support. Following her tweet, public figures such as Greta Thunberg, Meena Harris, Rupi Kaur, Susan Sarandon, and Mia Khalifa have used various social media platforms to show their support for the farmers. In response, the Indian government continued to spread false information and issued arrest warrants, claiming international allies are being paid millions of dollars by the “terrorists” (the farmers) to tweet in support of the farmers. Furthermore, Hindu nationalists reacted to female supporters from abroad with hateful and misogynistic comments online, including death and rape threats.
While they are being treated inhumanely by the Indian government, farmers continue to serve langar (free meals) at the Delhi borders to anyone in need, whether that be protesters, or police officers who continue to use violence against farmers. In addition, farmers continue acts of service for others by setting up makeshift schools for underprivileged children, setting up hospitals for thousands, and creating a grassroots newspaper to combat corrupt media. In contrast, Indian police have put up metal spikes, barbed wire, and concrete walls to prevent farmers from receiving essential supplies and attempting to stop them from entering the protest sites. Instead of backing down or choosing violence, farmers responded by planting flowers where the police had installed metal spikes. This demonstrates the resilience, positivity, and courage of the farmers. While the majority of the protesters have been Sikh, many religious groups have joined the farmers’ protests and shown their support including Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhist monks. As the Indian government seeks to silence, suppress and ultimately destroy the farmers’ movement, it only grows stronger and more powerful as a diversity of groups come together in solidarity to fight against injustice. We admire our farmers and our elders’ strength, and are deeply committed to their struggle and their victory.
THE SOCIAL LENS: A SOCIAL WORK ACTION BLOG - The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the original author(s) and do not express the views of the UBC School of Social Work and/or the other contributors to the blog. The blog aims to uphold the School's values and mission.