Minreet Kaur: UK MP Webbe Stands Firm With Farmers As The High Commission Of India Breaks Protocol
In a highly unusual move last week, the High Commission of India (HCI), London, tweeted out an open letter to UK Member of Parliament for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe
February 26, 2021 | 4 min. read
In a highly unusual move last week, the High Commission of India (HCI), London, tweeted out an open letter to UK Member of Parliament for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe. Webbe has been vocal in her support for the farmers’ protest, and their democratic right to peacefully protest.
Webbe was taken aback by the manner in which the HCI broke protocol in engaging her. “It was obviously extremely unusual to receive official correspondence from the Indian High Commission via a public social media platform. Particularly given that they represent the Indian Government in the UK and thus will be well aware of the usual protocols for communicating with parliamentarians.”
Many Sikh activists and India watchers have been noticing an increasing trend of Indian consulates and high commissions around the world becoming more abrasive. Becky Kaur, from Sikh Council UK, has been keeping a close eye on the HCI and its recent behaviour.
“The response from the Indian High Commission has not been insightful into the needs of people living outside of India and their concerns. They have not made any attempts to hold open consultations or respond to letters that have been sent by many Sikh organisations.”
The HCI’s targeting tactic attracting pro-Modi government online abuse is not lost on Webbe.
“Such methods, by singling me out, can cause oppression by encouraging others to publicly and directly criticise me for daring to draw attention to the mistreatment of the Indian Farmers and their peaceful protest.”
The governing BJP is known to use social media as a tool to crush dissent and silence free speech through their organized IT Cell - sometimes described as a bot factory targeting critics of Modi’s government. Attacks from the IT Cell are often abusive, especially towards women - something Webbe has experienced personally.
“I sincerely hope that the intention of the Indian High Commission was not to encourage the immediate ‘pile on’, online criticism and often abusive targeting that I experienced from a succession of individuals and what seemed like machine processed ‘bots’, many of whom were anonymised but whom clearly supported the Indian government’s position. The Twitter mute button came in very handy during that storm.”
In fact, the open letter was not the only tweet from the HCI directed at Webbe that day. They also tweeted out a screenshot of Webbe’s tweet seeking fair treatment of activists Nodeep Kaur and Disha Ravi, and included the “internal” matter language which is a common response from India to any international scrutiny on human rights abuses.
Webbe had tweeted earlier this month the abuse she was already facing for raising issues important to her Indian constituents - a common experience for anyone speaking in support of human or democratic rights issues in India.
“I, along with other supporters of the farmers’ cause, have been subjected to horrific, racist, misogynist, and violent online abuse for standing in solidarity with Indian farmers. I would have hoped that the Indian Embassy would be aware that writing an open letter would only increase the abuse I have received”, she said.
If the intent of the HCI’s open letter was to encourage coordinated BJP IT Cell attacks in silencing Webbe’s voice, they have failed. She responded with an open letter of her own earlier this week, highlighting that she is speaking for her large South Asian constituency that is concerned about state violence in India.
“For the UK to pride itself on being a world leader of democracy, we must lead the international community in holding the Indian government to account for its actions. I have also encouraged the UK government to speak with the Indian government about listening to the farmers’ concerns and engaging with them and their unions.”
Kaur agrees that the issue is one of great importance for UK Sikhs and Punjabi communities, and wishes to see more UK MPs speaking on it. “The farmers’ issue has been successful from the point of view that it has united communities from all backgrounds in India. We are grateful to Claudia Webbe MP and all MPs for their continued support.”
Webbe expects more from the UK government, which has to date remained largely silent on the matter. A recent petition was submitted with over 100,000 signatures, which may potentially lead to a debate within Parliament.
“I have raised this issue with the UK Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, urging them to formally condemn the state violence. I have also urged the UK government to immediately cease the sale of weapons including water cannons, tear gas, and batons, which could be used against protestors in India. I have also encouraged the UK government to stop the exports of dangerous pesticides banned in the UK to India and other countries.”
Dawinderpal Singh, from the Sikh Press Association, sees Webbe’s leadership on the matter as an example for other politicians to follow. “Countless UK Sikhs are trying hard to impact the issue affecting farmers in India and one way is through MPs. What Claudia Webbe MP is doing for her constituents is viewed as a leading example of how to support Sikh community concerns as an MP.”
As for Webbe, she is not backing down any time soon.
“I shall continue to stand in solidarity with Indian Farmers, as well as all protestors across the world who are exercising their basic human rights of free expression and the right to peaceful assembly.”
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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