6 February 2021   Leave a comment

Protests by farmers in India have been going on for several months, and the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has invoked colonial-era sedition laws to repress them. The farmers fear that new laws passed by the BJP will devastate their earnings and wish to protect the subsidies that have allowed them to prosper since the 1960s. The Washington Post summarizes the changes made by the Modi government. The changes are an attempt to modernize the agricultural sector of the Indian economy which accounts for a substantial part of the population but only a fraction of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The protests were largely peaceful until late January when a farmer was killed in one of the demonstrations. According to Reuters:

“Tens of thousands of farmers have been braving New Delhi’s winter by sleeping in the open for months on national highways. Their protests have mostly been peaceful but a tractor rally on Jan. 26 flared into turmoil as some farmers clashed with police.

“Since then, authorities have shut down the mobile internet in parts of the national capital and heavily barricaded border roads to prevent protesters from coming into the city again.”

The Modi government has been arresting journalists, shutting down internet sites, and freezing Twitter accounts in an attempt to halt the protests. The Associated Press details the extent of the clampdown:

“Prosecutions on sedition charges are rare but their use to silence journalists, critics and dissenters in India isn’t new and previous governments had resorted to it. But official data shows that Modi’s government has used the law more than any other — up by nearly 30%. It has also repeatedly rejected demands to repeal it.

“Calls and messages seeking comment from four BJP spokespersons went unanswered. Calls to the party’s media office also were unsuccessful.

“Media watchdogs and rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, condemned the government’s actions as censorship. The Editors Guild of India said the cases against journalists were ‘an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media.’

“Daniel Bastard, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk, said the government was trying to impose its own narrative.

“Critics say India under Modi is growing intolerant. Its ranking on the World Press Freedom Index has fallen every year, and it ranked 142nd out of 180 places in 2020.”

The farmers are quite determined, but the Modi government seems intent on keeping the changes in agricultural laws in place. The Indian Foreign Ministry has compared the protests at the historic Red Fort in New Delhi with the protests on 6 January at the US Capitol. There does seem to be a great deal of disquiet in the world these days.

Farmers at the Red Fort, 26 January 2021

Posted February 6, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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