WASHINGTON – Three US lawmakers, in a letter to Indian ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu, have expressed grave concerns over Narendra Modi government’s efforts to suppress the ongoing farmers’ protests in India against the controversial farm laws.
“A respect for the rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and a thriving civil society are core components of a functioning democracy. We have been distressed this year to see actions by the Indian government that have restricted these rights for many Indians; not only for farmers, but also for religious minorities, and human rights organisations,” the letter written by the lawmakers was quoted by PTI as saying.
Thousands of farmers from across the country have been protesting at the borders of Delhi since November 26, seeking to repeal the three farm laws enacted in September.
Dubbing these laws as “anti-farmer”, the farmers say that the newly enacted legislations would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the “mercy” of big businesses.
The three lawmakers who wrote the letter are Congressman John Garamendi, Congressman Jim Costa and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. They said that while governments certainly can set their own internal agricultural policies, “we are deeply concerned” about the response to these protests by the Indian government, which has “reportedly suppressed” the protesting farmers’ right to assemble in peaceful protest.
However, the government has claimed that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.
“The situation in India is troubling,” Costa said in a statement Tuesday. “The right to peaceful protest is a basic democratic freedom and must be protected. I will continue to closely monitor the situation as it develops,” said the lawmaker from California.
Released to the media on Tuesday, the letter dated December 4 said that hundreds of thousands of farmers from the states of Punjab and Haryana that have made their way to Delhi to peacefully protest these new agricultural laws have been met with tear gas, water cannons, barricades, baton attacks, and more by the Indian government.
“Many of these farmers have children, relatives, and friends who are US citizens, many of whom have reached out to us to share their concerns about these developments,” the lawmakers wrote.
They noted that the US-India relationship has been deeply important to both countries for decades, and this partnership is particularly vital now in the context of growing strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Our strong bilateral relationship is based not only on shared interests, but also on what we hope are shared democratic values,” they said.
“We must acknowledge that we have also struggled at times in the United States to live up to the ideals of a just, democratic society, but we continue to strive toward it. As partners and friends, we must encourage one another to continue striving toward those ideals,” they wrote.
“We urge the Indian government to demonstrate its respect for these crucial democratic freedoms, and to be a model of democratic values in the vital Indo-Pacific region,” the lawmakers wrote.