U.S. Farmworkers Express Support for Farmers’ Protest in India

“Nearly one million farmers are peacefully organizing and demonstrating, but the Indian government has responded with state-sanctioned violence, including the use of tear gas, water cannons, mass arrests and indefinite detention,” begins a powerful letter sponsored by Justice for Migrant Women, a U.S.-based rural civic engagement initiative focusing on the needs of migrant women and other marginalized community members. “These human rights abuses must end now.”

The letter—which ran as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on Tuesday—was accompanied by a powerful video including spoken excerpts of the open letter from celebrities, influencers and activists.

Indian farmers have been peacefully protesting since before Thanksgiving week last year, standing up for their livelihoods against new laws that “benefit large conglomerate corporate entities and remove protections for farmers,” according to Ms. reporter Mallika Kaur. As the letter points out, this is a matter of life and death.

“India’s actions run counter to core sacred values shared by all democracies: the protection of civic and political participation and the commitment to human rights,” the letter continues. “We are living in a dangerous time when global citizens must be called on to safeguard the principles on which all democratic nations are founded.”

Over a million people have joined the #FarmersProtests, only to be met with violence from right-wing extremists and a brutal police response. Peaceful protesters outside of the nation’s capital have been beaten while sleeping on the street, unjustly detained and sexually assaulted in jails. Access to internet, water and electricity have been strategically cut off to make the conditions more difficult for activists. Indian media outlets controlled by the government have refused to cover the movement as people continue to fight to protect agricultural workers from capitalist exploitation. 


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The demonstrations in India are in opposition to three farm laws in particular rushed through by Prime Minister Modi’s government. But even before these laws passed, Indian farmers were in extremely precarious economic and social positions. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, more than 290,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1995, and the real number is likely much greater. High debt levels, stagnant produce prices and an unregulated market have created an unsustainable and unethical situation for millions of people. And the new laws will only exacerbate and accelerate these issues.

Now, U.S. farmworkers are standing in solidarity with the protesters. Justice for Migrant Women’s letter has been signed by 75 civil rights, legal and community organizations. It not only encourages readers to raise their own voices, but also denounces the police violence that activists have experienced. 

The letter specifically draws attention to the lasting precedent the Indian government’s actions could set, saying “India’s actions run counter to core sacred values shared by all democracies. We are living in a dangerous time when global citizens must be called on to safeguard the principles on which all democratic nations are founded.”

As the protests continue, coverage from around the world can help raise awareness and understanding of what many view as a monumental cry against corruption in the democratic process.

U.S. Farmworkers Express Support for Farmers’ Protest in India
Women sowing rice crops in the outskirts of Nagaon Town, Assam, India. (Diganta Talukdar / Flickr)

The full letter reads:

“Nearly one million farmers are peacefully organizing and demonstrating, but the Indian government has responded with state-sanctioned violence, including the use of tear gas, water cannons, mass arrests and indefinite detention. These human rights abuses must end now.

Indian farmers are standing up to defend their dignity and livelihoods. They are protesting three new laws, passed hastily without due deliberation, that will deregulate agriculture in India. For many, this is a matter of life and death. These laws benefit large conglomerate corporate entities and remove protections for farmers. Nearly half of India’s workforce is in the agricultural sector, the majority on small-hold farms. Millions of families now stand to lose their farms. An increase in industrial farming could have a devastating impact on the food we consume and the future of our environment.

Farmers across India have peacefully organized and protested for months. Yet they have faced violence, persecution, and retaliation by the government. The protest sites, at times, have been cut off from water, aid, and electricity. Internet services have been strategically suspended to silence dissent. Media outlets have been censored and threatened. Protestors, activists, and journalists have been arrested, assaulted, and held in indefinite detention.

India’s actions run counter to core sacred values shared by all democracies: the protection of civic and political participation and the commitment to human rights. We are living in a dangerous time when global citizens must be called on to safeguard the principles on which all democratic nations are founded.

To Indian farmers: You have ignited one of the largest protests in human history. From the fields of Punjab, to the villages of Kerala, to the streets of New Delhi, your voices echo around the world. Now we raise our voices in solidarity.

We call on all people who champion human rights—in the United States and around the world—to join us and condemn the abuses against farmers, laborers, and protesters in India. Use your voice to call on India to respect the core principles of democracy, including the rights of all people to protest peacefully, demand accountability, and envision a safer, healthier, and more just future for all people on the planet.

Signed,
Concerned farmers, activists, and citizens of the world”

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About and

Abby Lawlor is a current student at Claremont Graduate University pursuing dual masters degrees in applied gender studies, and community engaged education & social change. She is an alum of Franklin & Marshall College, and a former Princeton in Asia fellow.
Katie Fleischer is a recent graduate of Smith College and a Ms. editorial assistant working on the Front and Center series.