Farmers from a few states have been protesting against three new farm laws since November 2020. In the past two weeks the protest has come under increased ‘scrutiny’ of foreign celebrities and media. The debate has now gone beyond the handling of protests to democracy and freedom of press. Here’s what three prominent foreign media have said in the last week.
‘The End of the Indian Idea’
“To outsiders, the idea of India is centered on spirituality and mysticism, Gandhi and nonviolence, backpackers and yogis. Though these are stereotypical beliefs, they stem from truth: The country’s founding idea was a union of states, diverse in religion, and liberal in acceptance of that diversity. Republic Day marks the enshrining of our constitution, debated and agreed on in the years following independence. The preamble of that document notes India’s “resolve to constitute” a nation with “Justice in social, economic and political life; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity, and to promote among them all, Fraternity,” wrote Vidya Krishnan for The Atlantic.
“This was the central ethos of India once. Now we are a very different country. Today, that a majority of Indians are Hindu is not a demographic fact, but a governing premise; whereas liberty of thought was once prized, journalists are now arrested; and what was once a union of states, united in their diversity, is a society divided, where Muslims are not welcome, where farmers are beaten for defending their rights. To blame all of this on Modi would be overly simplistic.”
‘Rihanna rallies to the wrong cause in India’
Author Sadanand Dhume wrote an article for Wall Street Journal defending the farm laws and criticised Rihana and other celebrities for their support to the agitation.
“What do Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and Vice President Kamala Harris’s niece, Meena Harris, have in common? They’re all rallying support for India’s farmer protests, which are morphing from an arcane domestic dispute into an emotive international cause. And they’re all mostly wrong in their thinking.
“If you dig into the details, the moral questions become less clear. Protesting farmers may have understandable fears about their futures, but they come mostly from a relatively privileged minority who benefit from an unsustainable procurement system set up more than 50 years ago. India’s leading experts on agriculture have urged reform for at least two decades. If implemented, the new laws would likely help many more farmers than they will hurt,” Dhume writes.
‘If India can charge journalists with ‘sedition’ for doing their jobs, it has no free press’
The Caravan political editor Hartosh Singh Bal, wrote an article for The Guardian, mentioning the FIR against magazine’s executive editor Vinod Jose and how the cases filed against the magazine in various states “are no coincidence”.
Bal also writes about how the government has slapped the charge of sedition on Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and some journalists in wake of the farmers’ protest.
“These cases in quick succession seem to be no coincidence, given the Caravan and the Wire are among the few media organisations willing to look at the ruling government critically, at a time when much of the mainstream media has effectively become a propaganda outlet for Modi’s government. The very next day, Mandeep Punia, a freelance reporter who contributes to the Caravan, was picked up by the Delhi police at Singhu, a major protest site on the outskirts of Delhi. And then the Caravan’s Twitter account was suspended on government orders. It was one of 250 handles that went down. They have since been restored,” writes Hartosh Singh Bal.
“Much of this has gone unchallenged because the institutions of constitutional democracy that are meant to function as a check on executive overreach have largely given way. Modi’s majority in both houses of parliament and an ineffectual political opposition mean there is little by the way of legislative restraint. The civil service and the police act more as political extensions of the government rather than constitutional functionaries.”
“In this climate, the government is invoking a tried and tested method to clamp down on protests. In 2018, violence broke out between Dalit and Hindu fundamentalist groups when the former gathered to commemorate a 200-year-old battle in which Dalits helped the British defeat an army led by high-caste Brahmins. Since then several academics and activists have been arrested for aiding what the police claim was a conspiracy by ultra-left groups, but the leaders of the Hindu fundamentalist mobs have escaped accountability.”
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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