Farmers’ protests in India have continued to receive global attention this week. Following the violent clashes during the Republic Day protest thousands of police personnel were deployed to the Delhi borders to clear the protest sites by driving farmers away through lathi charge. But as farmers stayed on following Rakeh Tikait’s call for a mahapanchayat the ruling government has responded by erecting layers of barricades, digging up trenches, erecting metal spikes on roads, cutting off water supply and the internet.
Internet suspension which did not receive as much response during Kashmir lockdown has attracted attention of the international media and celebrities who have begun talking about farmers’ fundamental rights and freedoms.
American singer Rihanna posted a link to a report on Indian farmers to her more than 100 million followers on Tuesday, asking “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” Several prominent figures subsequently joined Rihanna in expressing support for the protests, including teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece, Meena, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and NFL star JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The scenes of metal spikes and heavy barricades on Delhi borders also led Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to take a swipe at the centre with the “build bridges, not walls” quote.
From toilets to water to sanitation — farmers at the three protest sites at Delhi’s borders are feeling the squeeze. The Modi government which has taken pride over “swachh bharat” and building several toilets, for women especially, have now failed by restricting their access to water and toilets. The barricading has cut off access to roughly 100 portable toilets. Farmers at Singhu also alleged that water supply to the protest site has been hit since January 26. The blocking of transport channels has also reduced their prospects of securing food. And by switching off the internet that is essential for them to communicate the ruling government has virtually stamped out their right to free speech.
Government of India has acted in an unprecedented manner by reacting to individual opinions on Twitter. It was not that GOI was reacting to State actors as it did in the case of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he expressed concerns on stifling of farmers’ peaceful protests by the Indian government. What America’s pop star Rihanna or climate change activist Greta Thunberg say on a social issue like the farmers’ protests is strictly a matter of personal opinion and the public can certainly see through the efforts of pro-government celebrities acting at the behest of their political friends by tweeting “similar” style opinions in an orchestrated exercise to save government’s image in the garb of saving India’s international image in a show of jingoistic zeal. If PM Modi was compelled to speak on Capitol Hill riots in America other countries may be compelled to speak on farmers’ strike and basic freedoms and it would be for India to take up the issue with these countries through diplomatic channels. But every time someone with a fan following on social media says something on India’s internal issue it would only be too sensitive of the GOI to run to save its image and call it a global conspiracy or see a foreign hand in the matter.
The massive show of strength by protesting farmers in the mahapanchayat called by Rakesh Tikait has raised more concerns for the ruling government. Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Tikait even indirectly warned the Modi government that if it did not do a “bill wapsi” the youth may call for a “gaddi wapsi”.
By laying a road of metal spikes and creating impediments before protesters is the government saving itself from the threat the farmers’ agitation poses to the BJP government?
A countrywide “chakka jam” protest has been planned for Saturday against the internet ban. Farmers are showing no intention of returning until all three farm laws are withdrawn by the centre. “Kanoon wapsi nahin to ghar wapsi nahin” they have said.