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Indian farmers’ protests: the women who are making a real difference and how

Women have been at the forefront of the world’s largest protests in India, and their tireless efforts are making a difference. Here’s the latest from the women on the ground.

Farmers in India have been camping out in protest on the road side of Delhi’s borders since the beginning of November last year. This comes after the Indian government passed three new agricultural farm laws on 17 September 2020.

Indian farmers and citizens are worried that the new laws will change the way India’s farmers do business. Taken together, the reforms will loosen rules around sales and pricing – rules that have protected India’s farmers from the free market for decades. 

One of the biggest changes is that farmers will be allowed to sell their produce at a market price directly to private players – agricultural businesses, supermarket chains and online grocers. Most Indian farmers currently sell the majority of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets, also known as ‘mandis’ at assured floor prices. The new laws will leave farmers at the mercy of big corporations and this will potentially destroy their livelihoods.

On the ground in India, everyone from children, students, teachers and nurses to housewives and grandmothers are holding the front lines at the world’s largest protest.

Protesters in Delhi have been surrounded by barricades and barbed wire, and had their internet, water and food supplies cut off, and over 100 Punjab farmers are missing since attending protests. There are claims that at least one woman activist was detained and sexually assaulted. According to a farmers’ union, over 248 protesters have died so far.

Women in India are being penalised and jailed for speaking out such as activists Nodeep Kaur and Disha Ravi, who have just been granted bail after being jailed for months. 

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

The Indian diaspora in the UK is determined to continue pushing the government here to take a stand. A petition that has over 100,000 signatures will now need to be debated in government when lockdown ends.

Daughter of a farmer and the first Sikh MP in the UK, Preet Kaur Gill for Birmingham, Edgbaston has been lobbying several MPs to raise awareness of the farmers’ protest. 

Supporters include Valerie Vaz (shadow leader of the House of Commons), Joy Morrissey (MP for Beaconsfield), Seema Malhotra (MP for Feltham and Hounslow), Alison Thewliss (MP for Glasgow Central), Caroline Nokes (MP for Romsey and Southampton North) and Jane Stevenson MP for Wolverhampton North East).Hundreds more have signed a cross party letter sent to Home Secretary Dominic Raab.

The letter requests that Dominic Raab meet with Preet Gill – and all of the MPs who are supporting her – to explain what the government is currently doing about the concerning new developments at the farmers’ protest.

MP Preet Kaur Gill welcomes the way people in the UK are engaged in supporting the protest. She tells Stylist: “It’s important that the government resume talks with the farmers’ unions and finds a resolution in respect of this. What I would like to see next is that we don’t see this human rights violation that we have all been witness to and the government will uphold international law and the right of all those protesting to peacefully protest and ensure access to clean water and amenities. It’s really important we recognise in democracies that the social movements are the way for people to be engaged and bring about change that they want to see.”

Preet Gill
Preet Gill

Billboards have started to go up in London and across the UK in support and raising awareness of the ongoing protests in India.

Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, received an open letter from The High Commission of India which she responded to on Twitter this week. 

She said: “I sincerely hope that the intention of the Indian High Commission was not to encourage the immediate ‘pile on’, online criticism and often abusive targeting that I experienced from a succession of individuals and what seemed like machine processed ‘bots’, many of whom were anonymised but whom clearly supported the Indian government’s position. The Twitter mute button came in very handy during that storm.

I, along with other supporters of the Farmers’ cause, have been subjected to horrific, racist, misogynist, and violent online abuse for standing in solidarity with Indian farmers. I would have hoped that the Indian Embassy would be aware that writing an open letter would only increase the abuse I have received.

However, if the intent of the letter was to prevent me from speaking out on this issue, I shall not be intimidated or silenced and I shall continue to stand in solidarity with peaceful protestors – in India, the UK and across the world.” 

On the ground in India, women are holding the protests together and will stay there until the laws are repealed.

Jasleen Kaur
Jasleen Kaur

Jasleen Kaur, 29, is a chartered accountant from Abohar, Punjab who is witnessing events first hand. 

“My family is in agriculture and I’ve been at the protest for a couple of months. There is so much equality there – I was given a lot of privilege being a woman. The men would treat me with a lot of respect. Women from young to old are there, including 80 year olds. I have been at both borders: Singhu and Tikri. Women are encouraging one another to use their voice. Women drive tractors, they are farmers and they are the backbone. Women show so much resilience; they are holding the protests together. Women are united here – no one is going to back down – we are in this together and we won’t back down until the laws are repealed.”

Recognise One, a UK based charity, has raised nearly £400,000 to give to the families in India who have lost loved ones. Many grassroots charities such as Khalsa Aid, United Sikhs and Sikh Assembly have volunteers on the ground providing food, shelter, supplies, medical care. What’s clear is despite what the protesters are enduring, they will not back down. 

Main image: Pradeep Gaur/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images. Photos courtesy of MP Preet Gill and Jasleen Kaur