Minreet Kaur: Reactions Pour In Regarding Damning UK Parliament Debate On Human Rights In India
India’s crumbling democratic institutions, attacks on journalists and the free press, and ongoing human rights abuses were all topics of discussion in what was an oversubscribed debate
March 9, 2021 | 7 min. read
Reactions are pouring in after yesterday’s historical UK Parliament debate on press freedoms and the safety of protestors in India.
The debate was triggered by a successful petition initiated by Liberal Democrat councilor, Gurch Singh.
The farmers’ protest framed the conversation, but the debate did not heavily touch on the policy implications of the three laws currently the focus of demonstrations outside Delhi and across the subcontinent.
However, India’s crumbling democratic institutions, attacks on journalists and the free press, ongoing human rights abuses, state-sponsored violence against minorities, and the dangerous rise of Hindutva under the Modi government were all topics of discussion in what was an oversubscribed debate.
Only MP Theresa Anne Villiers spoke in favour of Modi’s Hindu Nationalist government, brushing aside widely criticized and documented state-sponsored abuse and violence.
While Nigel Adams, the Minister of State for Asia, spoke of ongoing dialogue and conversation with the Indian state regarding any concerns the UK may have, including the Modi government’s silencing of Amnesty International in India, there were no clear outcomes from the UK government on what will come next as a result of this debate.
Reacting to the damning debate, the Indian government summoned the British High Commissioner in Delhi today as well, disappointed that UK politicians openly discussed worrying trends in India. Indian officials have previously taken offense to other democracies around the world raising concerns about human rights in India, something the Modi regime argues is an “internal” matter only.
Anticipating this kind of response, Member of Parliament from Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Martyn Day, did open the debate by emphasizing that this conversation on human rights was very much relevant to the UK.
“Farming protests in India may not seem to be the most obvious issue for a petitions debate, but the Petitions Committee has always accepted petitions calling on the UK Government to engage with other Governments on human rights issues.”
Baaz reached out to various politicians and Sikh organizations for their post-debate thoughts. We have published responses in their entirety. We also reached out to the High Commission of India, London, but we did not receive a reply at the time of publishing.
Manchandan Kaur Sandhu, Sikh Network
“Straight talkers like Nadia Whittome called out the sexist, far-right behaviour of the BJP government and Layla Moran made specific reference to the laws potentially being in violation of Article 9 of the ITGRFA.
Theresa Villiers stuck out like a sore blue thumb in her overt support for what she called a “democratic success story”.
After yesterday’s debate, the Sikh Network looks for the Minister to hold strong on his commitment to ensure the Indian government is called upon its treatment of the farmers protesting and for curtailing press freedom. He by no means went far enough given all the evidence that was presented to him to condemn the actions of the Indian government and it was clear that “India as a friend” would likely be allowed to continue with its oppressive regime without being called to account.
It was encouraging that he supported the lifting of the ban on Amnesty International in India, but alarming that such a ban is not seen as gravely as it should be in this day and age.
The Sikh Network is looking to our government and the Foreign Secretary to make stronger representations on the human rights abuses in play and disproportionate use of force and arbitrary arrests and detentions. The UK should use its role on the UNHR council to hold India to account on its breaches of international law.”
Sikh Press Association
"We were encouraged by the attendance and participation of MPs in the House of Commons debate on the rights for farmers to peacefully protest in India. India's record on torture of detained journalists and activists was highlighted, and the UK, as well as the international community, must not allow India to continue ignoring human rights conventions that outlaw the use of torture by national governments.
The use of tear gas and water cannons by Indian police on peaceful protesters was also noted as a major violation of human rights and the suspension of Internet services at protest sites was roundly criticised.
However, we did not see a firm commitment from the UK Government to address these issues frankly and forcefully with prime minister Modi and his government. A commitment from prime minister Johnson to raise the concerns of the 100,000-plus UK citizens who signed the petition that prompted this debate with Modi ahead of his next visit to India is urgently needed.”
Amrik Singh, Sikh Federation (UK)
“17 out of 18 MPs who spoke from the Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Independent, including from three front benches were very critical of the Indian authorities in terms of human rights violations against farmers, journalists and activists.
One Conservative MP accused the Indian authorities were of breaking accepted norms and were sliding into authoritarian oppression. Others were even more critical of the BJP, Modi and Hindutva.
We provided Layla Moran MP, the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs specific briefing by on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources on Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). It is an important binding treaty and Article 9 of the treaty is about farmer rights.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) based in Rome and in turn Michael Kakhri, the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food should be consulted. We are of the view that it can be reasonably argued that the three Indian farm laws are in breach of Article 9 that protects the rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material as all three laws refer to "seeds".
If it can be established the three laws violate this binding treaty there are grounds to lobby that the laws need to be repealed. The farmers demand is the farm laws are repealed.
The Minister had to admit they had “not made an assessment of India’s agricultural bills in relation to Article 9” and would consult officials on this.”
Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East
“As one of the most prominent champions of solidarity with the Indian farmers, I was extremely disappointed to not be selected to speak in the hugely important and understandably oversubscribed Westminster Hall debate. It was especially disappointing that, on International Women’s Day only five of the nineteen called speakers were women.
This is especially concerning given how women have been treated on the front line of the farmers’ struggle. For instance, Disha Ravi, a young climate activist, and Nodeep Kaur, a Dalit labour rights activist, have both been arrested and detained for their peaceful protests. The unique contribution of women to the farmers cause was recognised by Time magazine, who dedicated their iconic front cover to three generations of Indian Woman who are on the frontline of the farmer’s protest. We need more media coverage such as this, which shines a light on the peaceful protest and the authoritarian response of the Indian government.
Despite being unable to take part directly, I praise the Westminster Hall debate for a transparent and open discussion of the farmers protest. I hope that this will act as a catalyst for other parliaments across the world to debate and discuss the farmers protest in an open and transparent way.
This debate was a victory for every single one of the 115,000 people who signed the petition that resulted in this debate – including over 1,700 Leicester East residents. This shows that our voices do matter, and that our campaigning can force those in power to listen and act.
The next step is for the UK government to respond to this issue and unequivocally condemn the acts of violence by the Indian state. They must encourage the Indian authorities to protect the farmers’ right to peaceful protest, their right to freedom of assembly and expression, and to respond to any incidents of civil disobedience in a proportionate and appropriate manner. The debate should also act as a catalyst for the UK government to cease the supply to India of dangerous pesticides banned in the UK and review trade agreements that finance consultants to "alleviate bottlenecks to private-sector investment in agriculture" in India
I have been extending my solidarity to peaceful farmers who are protesting the privatisation and corporate take-over of the country’s agricultural sector. I hope that this debate will encourage the Indian government to take seriously the farmers concerns, to welcome the involvement of Trade Unions and to act on the protestor’s demands to repeal the legislation that will damage lives, livelihoods and the environment.
The UK-India relationship must be deeper than just trade, and should be based on the promotion of democracy, human rights and upholding international law. The UK Government must urge their Indian counterparts to defend internet freedom and prevent governments from adopting this authoritarian tactic. They must also raise urgent issues around human rights, media freedom and religious liberties in India.”
Nadia Whittome, MP Nottingham East
“As the granddaughter of Punjabi farmers, I am proud to speak today in solidarity with the millions resisting Modi’s regime. Farmers from across India—of all faiths and none, of all genders and all castes—are protesting against laws that threaten livelihoods. In total, 250 million workers went on strike in solidarity. That is the largest strike in world history. In response, in order to stoke communal violence, the Indian Government-controlled media has demonised protesters as Sikh separatists. Protesters have been met with state repression and brutality.
It is timely that the debate is being held on International Women’s Day because women are leading this historic revolt. In January, the courts told women protesters to go home. They suggested that women farmers were not real farmers, but the women workers of India are refusing to be silenced, from farmers’ leaders, such as Jasbir Kaur Nat, to jailed climate activist Disha Ravi, to Dalit trade unionist Nodeep Kaur, who was wrongfully imprisoned, reportedly sexually assaulted and tortured by police."
Sam Terry, MP for Ilford South
“Many of my constituents in Ilford South have been horrified to see the way Sikh farmers, many of which have been their family members have been treated by the Indian government. Having water cannons, hitting them, tear gas, brutal force used against them repeatedly while protesting peacefully against the farmer’s bill. Everyone has a right to protest peacefully and the action of the Indian government cannot go unchecked.
In Ilford, we have a hugely diverse community and they are fully in support of the Indian farmers. Support extended way beyond community our large and vocal Sikh community. Posters are up in Mosques and churches across Ilford about how outraged people are at what is going on in India.”
Layla Michelle Moran, MP for Oxford West & Abingdon
"The Government’s response to human rights abuses in India is still not good enough. Whilst it is welcome to hear the Foreign Office has met with officials from the Indian Government on the Farmers Protest, I am concerned about the strength of our message.
The scenes of police brutality and arrests in the wake of the Farmers Protests in India are deeply troubling. We welcome close relations between the UK and India, but this must be based on a mutual commitment to human rights, freedom of religious belief, the rule of law, and democracy.
Today is not the end of our efforts to demand the British Government take a stronger stance when standing up for the rights of peaceful protesters in India.
The Liberal Democrats have submitted a motion to the House of Commons so MPs can show solidarity with peaceful protesters in India who are experiencing human rights abuses. I have also written to the Foreign Secretary on this matter.
We have only been able to hold the Government to account today thanks to the power of democracy. A petition started by Liberal Democrat Councillor, Gurch Singh, and signed by over 100,000 people, has forced the Government to stop hiding on this important issue."
Gurch Singh, Petition Organizer
“I very much welcomed the debate on this petition. It was a positive step to have this debate as recognition of the large number of signatures the petition amassed - now more than 115,800 people have signed this. It was important to have a discussion with the Government minister and representatives from parties across the House of Commons. Encouraging the UK and India to work together constructively to ensure human rights, the rule of law, and democracy are upheld.
I was pleased that almost unanimously across the house politicians from all political parties of all persuasions, bar one MP, condemned what is going on in India right now and the way the Indian Government has dealt with peaceful protesters, activists, and the journalists reporting on the events.”
Minreet Kaur is an award-winning freelance journalist based in the UK. Daughter of the legendary skipping Sikh which won report of the year in 2020. She has written for BBC, Sky, The Independent, HuffPost, Al Jazeera, and The Tribune. She writes about religion, culture, communities, and human rights. You find Minreet on Twitter at @minkaur5.
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