The Women’s Movement inside the Farmers Protest

The farmers protests has officially entered it’s 100th day. Over 100+ farmers have either died by suicide or natural causes. On International Women’s Day, we saw the massive movement of Kaurs, who have been agitating alongside the farmers, show up in force.

Women protesting against new farm laws on occasion of International women’s day at Tikri border. This is by far, the greatest roundup of women protestors that have been seen since it has begun.

Originally tweeted by Sandeep Singh (@PunYaab) on March 8, 2021.

Tanushree Basin wrote about how Punjabi women who are participating in the protests now have a space for their own recollections of the farmers protest. All though we may have seen women here and there covered in the news, they have been relegated to the background in terms of visibility of their labor to keep camps running at Singhu, have been given very limited opportunities to talk about the protest and what they feel should happen, and have entirely been prevented from participating in talks with the government in Delhi about the future of farmers.

The erasure of Sikh women from organizing spaces is nothing new, in fact it also happens in the diaspora where male-centric perspectives are elevated more than women. It is happening, even as we celebrate Women’s History Month where we reflect on the importance of the other half of the world and how we have made progress in academics, politics, engineering, farming, and so many industries that never had our presence or our voice.

“Something snapped within us when we heard the government tell the women to go back home,” says Jasbir Kaur, a sprightly 74-year-old farmer from Rampur in western Uttar Pradesh. It’s late February and Kaur has been camping at the Ghazipur protest site for over three months, only returning home once. She was stung by the court’s suggestion that women were mere care workers providing cooking and cleaning services at these sites—though she does do some of that work—rather than equal stakeholders. “Why should we go back? This is not just the men’s protest. We toil in the fields alongside the men. Who are we—if not farmers?”

On IWD itself, we saw how men were sharing and elevating women they were already related to, instead of making the call for men to respect and advocate for women where we the least present. When it comes to Sikhs who identify as transgender women, the argument becomes even louder -against their humanity- and we are resorted to seeing awful comments online about how *less* deserving women become as we include their racial, caste and class denominations.

Naseeb Kaur, another listener, angrily interjected, “If we were educated maybe we would have voted for better people than this present government.”

The Modi government is facing sharp anger from farmers after it passed three new laws that make fundamental changes in the way agriculture markets are organised, which farmers fear could undermine their livelihoods. Punjab was the first to protest, but the movement has now spread to other states in north India, with farmers camping on the borders of the national capital for nearly three months. Many of them are women.

Karti Dharti was born from a need to communicate their stories, said Sangeet Toor, the founder and editor of the newsletter.

tanushree bhasin, the wire india

Clearly there is an interest from the women at the protests to be better engaged with the political process around them, and they want to know more about who they vote for so they don’t have to deal with these indignities, first from the men around them and then from the hindutva nationalist government.

Here at Kaur Republic, we educate people about the civic engagement process in the United States but it’s clear that more efforts should be given in India as well. I’ve written about the perils of gatekeeping in our community, as candidates who don’t necessarily have the Sikh interest in mind are often elevated and empowered at the expense of the community they want to represent. But the fact that there is interest from Punjabi women to take the reigns on their political destiny cannot be ignored.

Originally tweeted by Sandeep Singh (@PunYaab) on March 8, 2021.

Twitter has also been abuzz with discussions around caste-based oppression and how that is also playing a role in preventing farmers from fully unifying with one another, because of the many different class interests in addition to caste interests. Dalit activists like Nodeep Kaur -who faced the full brunt of the Indian police while being held for fighting on the side of industrial workers- and how her identity as a Dalit and ‘lower caste’ woman has subjected her to many indignities.

Today at Tikri border protest site, Women are managing the stage.
Some men were demanding that they should be allowed to address from stage. Then a man came and told them it is women’s day, men won’t be allowed.

Originally tweeted by Sandeep Singh (@PunYaab) on March 8, 2021.

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Nodeep Kaur, Disha Ravi and the Indian Government’s Violence Against Women

Image Credit: freenodeepkaur.com

Nodeep Kaur, Disha Ravi and countless other women who have been in Indian police custody have undergone human rights abuses. Among them are torture and sexual assault. Nodeep Kaur – a Dalit labor activist from Punjab- has faced gender-based violence while detained by Indian police for her involvement in fight against the farm laws but also for demanding unpaid wages from her employer.

Narrating Nodeep’s version of events leading to her arrest on 12 January, the plea said she and MAS members marched towards a factory demanding payment of pending wages to some workers, but were manhandled by a group formed by the Kundli Industrial Area owners’ association. Soon, a team from Kundli police station led by the SHO reached the spot, and grabbed Nodeep by her hair and dragged her to the side, the plea claimed.

This angered the protesters and the situation became worse when the police resorted to lathi charge. A scuffle ensued and Nodeep tried to pacify the situation, but to no avail, the petition said.

The Print india

According to the Indian Express, Punjabi women, while they may have gotten their education at universities, are still struggling with finding work that they can apply their degrees to. This is becoming a factor for them to become farmers and help out in the fields, while they look for work or are conditioned to work in precarious work situations.

Trigger warning ahead: Gender-based violence mentions:

Women’s Day celebration at Delhi University’s Arts Faculty turned ugly after activists of Bhagat Singh Chatra Manch (BSCM) and Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) supporters clashed on Monday.

The BSCM had invited Dalit activist Nodeep Kaur, her sister Rajveer Kaur and family members of a few of the rape victims, including Gurmandi and Butana case, to address the crowd on the plight of working and Dalit women.

However, even before Nodeep could address, ABVP supporters led by Delhi University Students Union joint secretary Shivangi Kharwal stopped the proceedings asking whether the organisers had the valid permission to hold such an event.

Tribune News india

‘We were branded anti-national by #ABVP members because we were talking of #Dalit rapes and rapes by State forces,” #NodeepKaur tells @NandyAsmita after her Women’s Day event was disrupted leading to clashes.


According to CNN:

“Millions of people, about 25% of India’s population of 1.3 billion people, are grouped under the scheduled castes (Dalits) and scheduled tribes (Adivasis) in India’s constitution. Adivasis are indigenous Indians who have been socially and economically marginalized for centuries.”

Originally tweeted by The Quint (@TheQuint) on March 10, 2021.


Some elements (guess who) tried to disrupt a programme being attended by labour activist Nodeep Kaur at Delhi University on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
Pics by @Sushil_Verma9

Originally tweeted by vijaita singh (@vijaita) on March 8, 2021.


Meena Harris, the niece of Vice President Kamala Harris, had tweeted in support of releasing Nodeep Kaur and in return faced the ire of hindutva nationalists within India. Rihanna also elevated the farmers plight on her twitter platform. Greta Thunberg, who rose to prominence with her climate activism also spoke out.

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Nodeep Kaur’s own run-in with ABVP -which is aligned with right-wing hindu nationalists- isn’t the only one. Gurmehar Kaur, a Indian activist who would later attend Oxford College and was outspoken about as a anti-war activist frequently commented on India-Pakistan wars and her own connection to it:

A graduate in English Literature from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University, Kaur had moved to the UK for higher studies. But it was at LSR that she came into limelight — for her participation in the ‘Save DU campaign’ in 2017, when Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) clashed with Ramjas College students over an invitation to JNU student activists Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid for a seminar.

The violence forced the college authorities to withdraw the invitation, but clashes still broke out between members of the RSS-backed ABVP and the left-affiliated All India Students’ Association (AISA). At the time, Kaur had posted on her social media a photo of herself  holding up a placard that read, “I am a student of Delhi University, I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP”

Gurmehar Kaur eventually withdrew from being a part of the campaign after she was relentlessly trolled. In a series of tweets, the student activist had announced that she wouldn’t be part of the campaign or the planned protest march against campus violence, but encouraged others to take part.

The Print

Gurmehar Kaur studied with another notable gender-rights activist Malala Yousafzai who was attacked by the Taliban in Pakistan while she lived in the Swat Valley for daring to pursue an education. She had to be airlifted to the United Kingdom for treatment and remains in danger if she were to ever return to Pakistan.

In 2009 at age 12, Malala blogged under a pen name for the BBC about living under the rule of the Pakistani Taliban. In 2012 she survived being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for campaigning against its attempts to deny women education.

In 2014, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate at age 17. In 2018 she launched Assembly, a digital publication for girls and young women available on Apple News. She graduated from Oxford University in June.

Reuters

The violence that is experienced by women activists in particular when it comes to advocating for their rights, is taking another turn on the digital frontier. While so many social media websites have helped activists ramp up their efforts and spread the word, giants like Facebook and Twitter are coming under increasing scrutiny by the Indian government and is being dictated by the government on what freedom of speech is and how they can track and detain activists. Women in particular are being singled out and being brutalized which in turn is causing their families to discourage them to engage in political activism.

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As the Fair Observer reports:

Modi may simply be casting his lines in all directions at the same time, unconcerned with the type of fish he may reel in. It could be compared to the Trumpian foreign policy notion of “maximum pressure” to make the adversary bend. In Modi’s case, it is directed at the platforms to convince them to take some action that he finds acceptable — it doesn’t really matter which. He appears to be giving his victims the choice between applying his criteria of censorship, which means banning specific content, or quietly handing him the data they collect, which will make it possible for India to identify and punish the culprits. At the same time, by personally threatening the employees of the platform, Modi is showing that he means business, much like Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo when they imposed sanctions on the officials of the International Criminal Court to discourage them from investigating the US and Israel.

Peter Isackson, The Fair Observer

When Twitter suspended Donald Trump from Twitter following the attack on the Capitol earlier this year, critics said that this would lay the groundwork for authoritarian governments to apply pressure on social media giants to censor their own political opponents. Which is exactly what the BJP proceeded to do. Truthout reported this really well:

Last month the Modi government demanded that Twitter block the accounts of users who criticized the government and their repression of the farmer strikes and the social media company complied temporarily. After Twitter blocked and then unblocked accounts — including those of activists, celebrities, and an entire news organization — the Indian government threatened employees of Twitter with jail time if they didn’t follow the government’s orders. To do all this, the Modi government invoked a 135 year old colonial-era law used by the British to quell anti-colonial uprisings. Instead of showing concern for these abuses, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has given nothing but public praise to Modi’s “Digital India” initiative at a time when digital censorship of the people and press by his government have intensified rapidly.

-Truthout

It’s clear that with the help of big tech giants Zoom, Google, Inc, Facebook, Twitter and many other social media sites, the American role in curbing the voices of farmers and the activists that stand with them, is critically damaging.

The United States Congress has been deliberating on how best to regulate these social media giants, but there isn’t any assurance that these changes will be stipulated overseas.

Where Does the Biden Administration Stand on the Farmers Protests?

The Biden Administration is clear that it is backing the Farm Bills and actually thinks it would be a boon to “the development of India’s private sector.”

The State Department, responding to a question on the ongoing farmers’ protests in India, said on Wednesday the US encourages that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue.
Live updates: Farmers protest
Indicating that the new Biden administration is supportive of the Indian government’s move to reform the agricultural sector that attracts private investment and greater market access to farmers, a State Department spokesperson said: “In general, the United States welcomes steps that would improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment”.
“We recognize that peaceful protests are a hallmark of any thriving democracy and note that the Indian Supreme Court has stated the same,” the official said.

Times of India, Feb. 4th, 2021

While the State Department in the United States made it clear that the Administration is supportive of the farm bills, the American Consulate in New Delhi reiterated the same message while saying:

“We encourage that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson said in a statement that also proffered general support to government measures to “improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment.”

In the United States, there have been many protests in front of the Indian embassy in major cities and at the Congressional district offices of Democratic members of Congress like Representative Ami Bera (CA-17)

Sikh Americans Think About Next Steps

It is without a doubt that the American sangat has learned that they need political power and influence to stand up against the Modi government’s sympathizers in the United States.

Here are some actions we can take in the mean time:

  • Reach out to your Members of Congress through the Sikh Coalition.
  • Find your local farmer protest.
  • Educate yourself on capitalism, activism and human rights through Panth Punjab
  • Read about how India has been giving away public institutions to the private sector through Ravinder Kaur’s Brand New Nation

You can reach me through navjot.pal96@gmail.com if you would like to re-publish my work in your outlet. Please do not copy and paste without my consent.

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Published by Navjot Pal Kaur

Kaur Republic is a blog dedicated to the empowerment and uplifting of Kaur voices and perspectives. We aim to bring you coverage from the American political spectrum on Sikh involvement in American politics and how the politics of it all leads to the policy of it all.

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