Image: Karuna John / Sabrangindia
At a meeting of the India Caucus, the largest country-specific caucus in the US House of Representatives, members discussed a range of issues surrounding the ongoing nationwide farmers’ protest in India.
Congressman Brad Sherman, Co-Chair of the Congressional India Caucus reportedly convened a meeting with his other Republican Co-Chair Congressman Steve Chabot, and Vice-Chair Congressman Ro Khanna to speak with India’s Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, regarding farmers demonstrations in India.
Media reports quoted Sherman as saying, “I urged the Indian government to make sure that the norms of democracy are maintained and that protesters are allowed to protest peaceably and to have access to the Internet, and to journalists. All friends of India hope that the parties can reach an agreement.”
Earlier, another Congressman Steve Cohen who is also Chairman of Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, had also tweeted saying, “India is the largest democracy in the world and free speech is one of the finest hallmarks of democracy. I am closely watching the #FarmersProtests with concern about potential attacks on freedom of speech including cuts to internet service and state-sponsored violence.”
India is the largest democracy in the world and free speech is one of the finest hallmarks of democracy.
— Steve Cohen (@RepCohen) February 4, 2021
Taranjit Singh Sandhu tweeted saying, “Detailed discussions on varied issues with the leadership of the House Caucus on India and Indian Americans for the 117th Congress. Look forward to working closely with them to further strengthening India-US ties.”
Detailed discussions on varied issues with the leadership of the House Caucus on India and Indian Americans for the 117th Congress. Look forward to working closely with them to further strengthening India-US ties. pic.twitter.com/6ABc7aLWqZ
— Taranjit Singh Sandhu (@SandhuTaranjitS) February 5, 2021
This comes close at the heels of a call for “maximum restraint by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. On February 5 the organisation had tweeted, “#India: We call on the authorities and protesters to exercise maximum restraint in ongoing #FarmersProtests. The rights to peaceful assembly & expression should be protected both offline & online. It’s crucial to find equitable solutions with due respect to #HumanRights for all.”
#India: We call on the authorities and protesters to exercise maximum restraint in ongoing #FarmersProtests. The rights to peaceful assembly & expression should be protected both offline & online. It’s crucial to find equitable solutions with due respect to #HumanRights for all.
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) February 5, 2021
This nudge from US lawmakers is significant given how the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had reacted strongly to criticism of how the Indian government was responding to the farmers’ protest from international celebrities and influencers including American singer Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg. The MEA had said, “Respecting the sentiments of the protestors, the Government of India has initiated a series of talks with their representatives. Union Ministers have been part of the negotiations, and eleven rounds of talks have already been held. The Government has even offered to keep the laws on hold, an offer iterated by no less than the Prime Minister of India.” They added, “The Parliament of India, after a full debate and discussion, passed reformist legislation relating to the agricultural sector. These reforms give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers. They also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming.”
Undeterred by this, the US had recently made a formal statement on the farmers’ protest saying, “We recognise that peaceful protests are a hallmark of any thriving democracy, and note that the Indian Supreme Court has stated the same.” At a State Department press briefing they had also said, “We recognise that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy.”