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The farmers’ protests in India: what it means to British Indians watching from miles away

Since the introduction of harsh new farming laws in India and the resulting protests by citizens and farmers, British Indians have had to nervously watch the situation unfold from thousands of miles away. Here, one activist explains the anger, upset and solidarity she feels with the people protesting. 

Neelam Gill is a British supermodel and activist who speaks out against racism and global injustice. She is passionate about bringing awareness to domestic abuse and championing women’s rights. Here, she talks about how it feels to watch on from afar as a British Indian woman as Indian farmers and their families protest over the government’s new farm laws which famers say will ruin their livelihoods.

My grandparents were born in Punjab. Despite immigrating to the United Kingdom in the 1960s, they have always placed importance on our motherland – India, which has truly cemented a place in my heart.

It doesn’t matter that we live on the other side of the globe, that magical country has helped shape us as human beings, as is the case for millions who flock there every year. 

But with that same love for India comes a need for honesty. Honesty in addressing the oppression many groups are facing: farmers peacefully protesting their rights have been hard to watch to say the least; from extreme violence from the state authorities against our elders and most recently, an onslaught of human rights violations including internet shutdowns.

Farmer's Protests in New Delhi India
Demonstrators show solidarity with farmers protesting against the new farm laws in New Delhi, India.

One story I wish to highlight is that of Nodeep Kaur – a 24-year-old Dalit woman. Nodeep is a passionate and fearless character; a trade union activist, who has been bravely speaking up in hopes of justice. Although she is widely viewed in the western world as inspirational, she is hitting all the points of intersection for oppression in India – and by that I mean she is young, outspoken and a woman. A Dalit woman at that.

Dalit is a name for the lowest caste in India, who have been excluded from the four-fold Varna [social classes] system of Hinduism and as a consequence, are widely looked down on. Just last year, many of us were heartbroken to learn a 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped and subsequently murdered by four men. Although the men were prosecuted in this case, statistics show around 10 Dalit women are raped a day and few get justice. 

Like that innocent 19-year-old Dalit woman, Nodeep says she has been a victim of sexual assault. 

She was arrested on 12 January for protesting and has spent months in jail. 

Her family has alleged she was sexually assaulted by Haryana police while she was in custody, a charge the police have denied. However, a medical examination conducted after her arrest which showed injuries on her body, which her lawyer alleges is proof that she was sexually assaulted.

Her bail has been rejected several times; however, thanks to large traction on social media [lawyer and niece of American vice president Kamala Harris has tweeted about Nodeep using the hashtag #FreeNodeepKaur] there are hopes public pressure might lead to her release. 

Nodeep’s freedom may finally be on the horizon, but her situation is a stark reminder of the realities many women face across India. 

Nodeep and I are only one year apart; two women who arguably share the same principles, yet we don’t share the same privileges.

I live in a society where it is encouraged to use your voice and find your passion, whereas she is suppressed. 

Why is it that I am protected by laws and human rights, yet she is left voiceless?

Unfortunately, this is one of many such cases. Several journalists have also been taken from their tent at the farmers’ protests by police with no explanation on their whereabouts or wellbeing. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, stated the Indian authorities should drop the charges as their “response to protests has focused on discrediting peaceful protestors, harassing critics of the government and prosecuting those reporting on the events.”

Innocent civilians are being arrested without warrants or any formal procedure, including Mandeep Singh and Mohinder Singh who were taken by the Delhi police. This is all an attempt to scare protestors from showing up and showing solidarity.

Many of us in the South Asian diaspora were left feeling even more helpless in this past week with the news of Jagtar Singh Johal – who has been imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to the death penalty without trial. 

His family has been desperately petitioning online, starting the #FreeJaggiNow movement (which has gained thousands of signatures) and 60 MP’s have written in support, including Jagtar’s local MP Martin Docherty-Hughes, but we are again left feeling defeated as a community.

The human cost of the farmers’ protest has already taken nearly 248 lives so far, as reported by the Indian Express, with many not being able to withstand the cold weather conditions or from developing illnesses at the protest sites due to lack of hygiene and basic medical assistance. How many more must be lost? 

To the farmers who are peacefully protesting, I will always stand by you. To Nodeep, Jagtar and all the other innocent souls who are being held captive, I promise to use my platform to the best of my ability in the hopes of securing justice.

To those who have the power to make positive change, I hope that you read this thoroughly with compassion and kindness. I hope that you stand up for what is right and I sincerely hope that you stop the violence.

The world is still watching. 

Images: Main Photo by Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty and Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty