Feb 3, 2021

Open Letter to Bernie, the Squad and Progressive US Lawmakers: State Repression of the Farmers’ Movement in India

An open letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Jeff Merkley, Sen Ed Markey, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. AOC, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Cori Bush, fmr Sen. Nina Turner, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Rep. Ro Khanna, Rep. Mondaire Jones, Rep. Katie Porter, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Karen Bass and Rep. Gregory Meeks
By Saib Bilaval / filmsforaction.org
Open Letter to Bernie, the Squad and Progressive US Lawmakers: State Repression of the Farmers’ Movement in India
Policemen step onto the neck of an Indian protestor

Dear Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Jeff Merkley, Sen Ed Markey, Sen. Sherrod Brown,  Sen. Patrick Leahy, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Ocasio Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Cori Bush, fmr Sen. Nina Turner, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Rep. Ro Khanna, Rep. Mondaire Jones, Rep. Katie Porter, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Karen Bass and Rep. Gregory Meeks,


I am writing to you as a friend and supporter, and as a journalist, historian and activist from India - one who hopes for a more progressive US foreign policy towards India and other countries - in urgent need of solidarity for our historic farmers' movement. 


You may be aware that in India, the largest protest in world history is happening for some months now, led by farmers in opposition to the Farm Bills being introduced by the Indian government, during a deadly pandemic. There is widespread support for the farmers, and heavy government repression - 170 farmers have died. The movement's popularity is comparable to the popularity of a $15 minimum wage or $2000 checks - overwhelming. The bills are branded by the ruling party as good for farmers. The truth could not be further from that, and the farmers know it.


Here's what's wrong with the bills:


1. They remove cereals/foodgrains, pulses, cooking oil, onions, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables from the Essential Commodities Act, thereby gutting it of nearly all essential commodities. This sets the stage for huge price increases for consumers, especially the working class and poor.


2. The government no longer sets a minimum support price - hence no longer guaranteeing farmers a decent price for their produce. Farmer debt and suicides are an epidemic in India. Further, the government will no longer be accountable for regulating prices - for producers and consumers. This will also wreak havoc on the food ration system the government runs.


3. The government opens up agriculture to mass privatization, private manipulation of prices through imports or the corporate stockpiling and hoarding of agricultural goods, and enabling a land grab in which every farmer would just be a landless employee or contract farming (a neo-colonial practice).










Here's how the government has been framing the protestors as anti-national, the police brutality against protestors, farmers, students, activists and even journalists – depriving large mass of citizenry of their civil and human rights:















Here's a little bit of background on the existing government and ruling party:


a.The current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi is responsible for the 2002 genocide of Muslims in Gujarat.






b.The February 2020 anti-Muslim riots in Delhi happened under his watch, while the flames were fanned and goons were led by his party.






c.The Modi government by abrogation of Article 370, forcibly removed the constitutional autonomy of India’s only Muslim-majority state.






d.The ruling party BJP led a vicious campaign in the 1990s for the demolition of a historical mosque, spreading hate for votes, culminating in their rise to power on the back of bigotry today. They not only demolished the mosque but are constructing a temple in place, for their symbolic conquest over Muslims, and to create cultural trauma for that community.




e.The ruling party BJP is the political wing of a neo-fascist, Hindu supremacist paramilitary organisation called the RSS, which was responsible for religious riots throughout the country from the 1920s onwards, the largest mass killings of Muslims, and view Muslims as second-class citizens. Hindu supremacist groups were also responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in the middle of his campaign for Hindu-Muslim peace following the bifurcation of colonial India into modern India and Pakistan.






f. Since Narendra Modi and his party BJP took over in 2014, lynchings and hate crimes against Muslims, lower castes, inter-religious or intercaste couples – and crimes against women – have become commonplace.




g. The Modi government conducted the NRC (National Register of Citizens) to disenfranchise and deport indigenous Muslims and Muslims immigrants. They also passed the Citizenship Amendment Act permitting immigrants and refugees from neighbouring South Asian countries except for Muslims.






h. The latest Budget passed by the government not only commercialises agriculture, but disinvests all public sector enterprises in all sectors except four (which will also see partial disinvestment), throwing away revenue generating assets to corporations, while increasing indirect taxes on essential commodities (such as agricultural goods and fuel) and direct taxes on middle class savings and retirees. Corporations and billionaires have only been subsidised, handed state assets at throwaway prices, and have been given huge tax breaks.








i. The government has neither handled the pandemic well (perhaps worse than even Trump), nor have they handled the economy well in terms of financial aid to citizens, unemployment or food rations. Citizens have received no financial support during the pandemic. The main relief fund is composed of voluntary donations from citizens, not government spending.








j. They have also heavily diluted labour laws during the pandemic.






Several celebrities have tweeted in solidarity with farmers and protestors, such as Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and John Cusack – as have Human Rights Watch, Rep. Ro Khanna, Rep. Shiela Jackson Lee, Rep. Jim Costa, Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant.


What we need:


There is an urgent need for solidarity from progressive lawmakers in the US Congress. A statement or even some tweets would do. You could consult with your staffers for the right stand to take. For days, progressives in India have been tweeting at lawmakers for solidarity. I understand that given the pandemic, the Presidential transition, and issues such as impeachment, approval of nominees/appointees, and COVID relief/budgetary matters - there is a lot on lawmakers' plates right now. Fighting hard everyday for working people, to ensure they get a fair deal is not an easy task. We strongly request your solidarity and support, as soon as possible -it would make all the difference to us. Our fight is very much the sort of fight progressive Democrats fight in the US every day.


1.         A statement in solidarity with the farmers’ struggle and condemning government repression in India.

2.         Tweets for the same.

3.         A resolution in Congress condemning the Indian government’s mishandling of the farmers’ protest.


I have written to your Congressional offices as well.


With love and solidarity,


Your friend,

Saib Bilaval

PhD scholar in Modern History and independent journalist

Centre for Historical Studies

Jawaharlal Nehru University

New Delhi, India 


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