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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nodeep Kaur, Disha Ravi and the Indian Government’s Violence Against Women
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.
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:
‘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.”
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.Times of India, Feb. 4th, 2021
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.
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
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