The India-focused group of lawmakers in the United States Congress has urged the Centre to maintain the norms of democracy by ensuring that farmers protesting against the new agriculture laws are allowed to demonstrate peacefully. The India Caucus also urged the Narendra Modi government to provide uninterrupted access to internet to protestors as well as the journalists covering the movement.
Co-chair of the Congressional India Caucus Congressman Brad Sherman said on February 6 that he convened a meeting to speak with India’s Ambassador to US Taranjit Singh Sandhu regarding the farmers demonstrations in India. This was the first meeting of the India Caucus on the matter.
Republican co-chair Congressman Steve Chabot and vice-chair Congressman Ro Khanna were also part of the discussions.
“I urged the Indian government to make sure that the norms of democracy are maintained, that protesters are allowed to protest peaceably and to have access to the Internet, and to journalists,” Sherman said in a follow-up tweet. “All friends of India hope that the parties can reach an agreement.”
Indian Ambassador Sandhu said he held “detailed discussions on varied issues” with the leadership of the House of Caucus on India, but did not mention the farmers’ protest.
On February 4, the United States State Department, too, had urged the government to resolve its differences with the farmers through dialogue, saying that peaceful protests were a “hallmark of any thriving democracy”. The country also signalled concern about internet shutdowns imposed at the farmers’ protest sites to suppress demonstrations, citing law and order situation.
Tens of thousands of farmers – mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh – have been camping at Delhi’s border points for over two months, seeking the repeal of agricultural laws passed in September. The protests had largely been peaceful but violence erupted on January 26, when a tractor rally planned to coincide with Republic Day celebrations turned chaotic. At least 125 protestors were arrested after the violence and several are reportedly missing.
Since then, authorities have launched a crackdown on the demonstration, fortifying their protest sites with iron spikes and steel barricades to stop demonstrating farmers from entering the Capital. The government also restricted access to mobile internet services in these areas.
Police complaints against farmer leaders followed, as did arrest of hundreds of protestors and registration of first information reports against journalists.
Several international personalities have expressed solidarity with the the protesting farmers. Pop star Rihanna’s tweet about internet cuts at protest sites near Delhi was instrumental in drawing global attention to the agitation in India. Following her tweet, the Indian government launched a counter campaign on Twitter, roping in celebrities including cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, actor Akshay Kumar and others to echo its stand on the farmers’ agitation.