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How did the farmers’ protests turn into an oppressed peoples’ Movement in India

Narendra Modi was emboldened by blanket Trumpian support to his draconian persecution of minorities in India. President Biden has promised to organize “a global Summit for Democracy” this year as part of his administration’s effort to restore America’s global leadership role.

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Police baton charge and water torrents on elderly farmers, besides inclement weather, sometimes become freezing. Farmers’ local and diaspora sympathizers flooded them with food, fruit, and even 30 quintals of American almonds (from US-based toot brethren). The government is trying tooth and nail to sow seeds of discord among the kissan unions. Formidable Jat kissan leader, Rakesh Tikait, now on hunger strike, declared to continue the strike until his death. His brother Naresh Tikait held that it should end.

To express solidarity with the farmers, 18 opposition parties have decided to boycott Indian president’s address (January 29, 2021) to joint sitting of the parliament at the start of the budget session (The Hindu January 28, 2021).

They criticised the government for obduracy when 155 farmers, braving water cannons, tear gas, and lathi charges, have already lost their lives. The government-sponsored media published stories that the movement was being backed up by Khalistani and Pakistani elements. Pakistani drones allegedly dropped hand=grenade through drones in East Punjab which eerily never exploded or displayed to the media. The government even drooped to filing an affidavit in Supreme Court to affirm its allegation of foreign aid to the peaceful movement.

The protest went on showing singular interfaith harmony where the non-Muslim human shielded the Muslims offering prayers. To ‘strongman’ Modi’s chagrin, the protest has now assumed an all-Indian dimension as Bhim-army chief Chandra Sheikhar Azad, founder of azad samaj party (open-society party) joined the protesters with the declaration ‘ek juth ho kar larna hai’ (we have to fight united).

The famers’ stamina baffled the arrogant Modi government’s imagination. The farmers turned their trolleys into makeshift dormitories. The sick and tired farmers were relieved to be replaced with fresh batches from homes far afield. Women back home plunged into the fields to take care of cultivated land and livestock.

How Azad’s (Bhim army) participation galvanized the protest

The government’s effort to blackout the peaceful protest floundered. Soon Azad’s harangues became viral on social media. He taunted the government that it prevented the peaceful farmers to reach Delhi, but it could not stop the Chinese from building 110 houses in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The media blacked out pictures of farmers’ martyrs including the sikh saints (sants) who committed suicides to express solidarity with the protesters.

He highlighted the linkage between the farmers and traders. If the farmer is destroyed all other traders would also suffer. The government was able to continue its repression of various have not communities and minorities (Muslims, Christians, dalits’, traders, and so on) as they remained impervious to each other’s plight. Now the time has come to fight united.

Azad is a vocal advocate of women’s empowerment. In an article, Azad said that Dalit women were never treated as equal citizens during over 72 years of India’s existence (Chandrashekhar Azad Constitutional promise of equal citizenship has been denied to women, Dalits, Indian Express Jan 28, 2021). 

He reminds, “The gender and caste-based violence that women face was highlighted by the unimaginable brutality in the rape of a young Dalit woman in Hathras. The latest instance of rape and death of a 50-year-old Anganwadi (rural child-care center) worker by a priest in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh exposes the inefficiency of the state administration to halt the violence against women and its role in reinforcing the persisting feudal, casteist, and patriarchal structures of our society… The Dalit-Bahujan movement, which I am a part of, has always sought gender and social equality and exposed the failure of administration in responding to violence and crimes against hitherto marginalised people.” He lamented, “Lower-caste women are considered polluted and, therefore, targets of assault and crime. Women are subjugated by the customs, rituals, and rules as defined by the Brahminical structure.”

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The physical and sexual violence against Dalit women, evident in the rape and death of two Dalit teenage girls in 2014 in Badaun; two Dalit minor girls in Walayar in Kerala in 2017; and a 23-year-old Dalit girl in Unnao in 2019.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report “Crime in India 2019” recorded 3, 59,849 crimes against women in 2017; 3, 78, 236 in 2018 and 4, 05,861 in 2019 — a persistent rise. Eleven percent of reported cases of rapes were committed against Dalit women in India. UP has been at the top in terms of violence against women at 56,011 in 2017; 59,445 in 2018 and 59,853 in 2019. The state has the largest share of crimes against women in India at 14.7 percent.

Likewise, UP tops with the dubious distinction of the highest number of cases in dowry deaths, acid attacks, cruelty against women by husband or his relatives, kidnapping, and abduction of women, and assaults on women with intent to outrage their modesty. The government in UP, though vigilant about the protection of cows, has failed miserably to make the state safe for women. Fearful of minorities’ backlash in the next elections, even the RSS chief Mohin Bhagwat ranted allegiance to the Indian constitution on the occasion of Republic Day.

Modi’s nightmare

The BJP bagged 31 percent of the votes cast in 2014 and over 37 percent in 2019, thanks to the Modi-magic wave. India’s population is 121 crore as per Census 2011. Of it, now the 41.73 percent ‘oppressed-movement’ wave appears to have turned against him (Muslim 14.23%, Christians 2.3%, the Scheduled castes (numbering 1108)16.6%, and Scheduled Tribes (744) 8.6%.

The Modi government is on a collision course with various interest groups. For instance, trading classes were alienated by demonetization and the Goods and Services Tax; students protested in many parts of the country after Reith Visual died by suicide; Dalit groups mobilized against the dilution of the legislative framework against atrocities; labour unions began a movement against changes in labour laws, and religious minorities stood up against the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens. It had to buckle or backtrack on several occasions after vehement opposition.

Read more: Farmers’ protest is defined not by waywardness of the few, but…

The euphoria of Hindu paradise for Hindu migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan evaporated when 11 Hindu migrants from Pakistan were killed at a Rajasthan farm under circumstances shrouded in mystery.  Modi-Shah cocktail treats its allies as deadweight to its cocktail. After the death of soft-spoken interlocutors Arum Jailed and Cushman Sartaj, Modi is now left with only Rajnath Singh and Nit in Gadkarito to play the role of conciliators. Even the leftover conciliators are helpless when the Modi-Shah maximalist duo treats the Congress as a Pak-China cabal.

RSS subdued

Neither the RSS chief (Mohin Bhagwat) , nor its general secretary (Bhaiyaji Suresh Joshi) attended flag-hoisting at the RSS’s headquarters (January 26, 2021). The excuse tendered for their absence was that Joshi is in Tripura and Bhagwat is on a visit to Gujarat. Reflecting disunity, two separate functions were held, one at Mahal (Nagpur) and the other at the Doctor Hedgewar Smruti Mandir Campus (Reshimbagh Nagpur). The city-unit chief echoed empathy with the downtrodden, in the backdrop of Bhim Sena’s entry into the farmers’ protest. He said, ‘The society at large should try to include marginalized classes in its progress’.

Though Modi himself attended the foundation-stone-laying ceremony of Ram temple, he did not dole out official funds for its construction at Ayodhya. Manohar Sapkar, who heads the Ayodhya unit of the RSS in the city appealed, ‘Youth needed to come forward to collect donations for the temple. A public donations drive is underway until March 15 which is supported by the RSS’. Sapkal recalled, ‘When the prime Minister Narendra |Modi took part in the groundbreaking ceremony of the temple, there was the impression that the temple will be built by the government’ Tricolour unfurled amid calls for Ram Mandir donations, Times of India, January 26, 2021).  The portents are that Modi is afraid of the rising influence of  Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister.

Read more: Muslim comedian jailed in India on allegations of insulting Hindu Gods

Biden should make religious freedom a precondition to good relations

Narendra Modi was emboldened by blanket Trumpian support to his draconian persecution of minorities in India. President Biden has promised to organize “a global Summit for Democracy” this year as part of his administration’s effort to restore America’s global leadership role. Religious tolerance is an essential plank of democracy. As such, he should tag protection of religious freedom as a precondition to good relations with the USA.

The international community and the USA should take India to task for human rights violations. The USA could invoke provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act, passed in 1998, during the Clinton administration, against the rogue Modi government.

The USCIRF’s annual report on international religious freedom includes recommendations to designate “Countries of particular concern.” India is a ‘country of concern’. The secretary of state resists the pressure from the Indian lobby to waive sanctions on India.

Read more: Farmers break barricades, capture Red Fort: India

The USA should deny India the Automated facial recognition systems used to identify and to exclude protesters, based on earlier protest videos taped by police. The software used was originally developed to trace missing children. But, it is now reportedly being misused to act against individuals, thereby not merely preventing them from protesting but doing so without any establishment of guilt. India has no legal framework to use technology.

India has a slew of draconian laws, which grant its armed and para-military forces to continue its reign of terror particularly in occupied Kashmir and the North-Eastern states. The USA should coerce India to stop human rights violations under its draconian laws.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been writing freelance for over five decades. He has served the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan for 39 years. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies and magazines at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is the author of eight e-books including The Myth of Accession. He knows many languages including French and Arabic. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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