Minreet Kaur: UK Parliament To Officially Debate Concerns Regarding Press Freedoms And The Safety of Protestors In India

The debate on the farmers’ protest will be the first of its kind outside of India. The UK government has been hesitant to seem critical of Modi as trade relations loom large.

Minreet Kaur
March 5, 2021 | 5 min. read

Petitioners have been granted their demand. The UK parliament will indeed debate press freedoms and the safety of protestors in India on March 8th, at 4:30 PM local time. 

Earlier this month the Boris Johnson government - which has largely been mute on issues surrounding India’s farmers’ protest - found themselves served with an e-petition signed by more than 100,000 residents via the UK Parliament’s official petition website. 

In the UK, any official petition with over 10,000 signatures receives a government response, and any over 100,000 signatures are considered for debate in Parliament.

Not every petition is considered worthy of debate, which makes this decision to move ahead with one considerable according to petition organizer Gurch Singh.

“Securing a debate so quickly shows the importance given to this issue by UK politicians. The petitions committee realised that this is very much a live issue and it’s not something that can be delayed any further,” he continues to add, “Many farmers have lost their lives, some are still missing, others are locked away in prison and journalists are being silenced on reporting the truth on how farmers are being treated.”

The debate on the farmers’ protest will be the first of its kind outside of India, and Gurch Singh believes that comes with unique opportunities.

“Having a debate in the UK Parliament is an opportunity for politicians representing constituents to show their support for farmers who have been peacefully protesting for months.”

The UK government has been hesitant to seem critical of Modi as trade relations loom large. However, that did not deter Gurch Singh and other signatories to push for a formal debate in order to force a global conversation.

“It is also an opportunity to put pressure on the UK Government to use its position on the international stage and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to help find a solution that sees the laws repealed and farmers return safely home knowing their futures are secure,” he adds, “this is no different from the UK government taking a stance on protesters in Hong Kong.”

The debate will take place in Westminster Hall, which is the second debating chamber of the House of Commons. A Member of the Petitions Committee will open the debate, followed by speeches from other Members of Parliament (MPs) including front bench speakers from opposition parties and a Minister. 

Gurch Singh is expecting a robust debate.

“We have already heard more than 20 MPs from different political parties are hoping to speak.  Stephen Kinnock will be there on the front bench of the Labour Party and Ed Davey and Layla Morgan on the front bench for the Liberal Democrats.  A Foreign Office will need to respond.”

Because of COVID restrictions, people will not be able to attend the debate in Westminster, but it will be broadcast online at Parliamentlive.tv.

It is not lost on MPs that the world will be watching them on Monday, including Slough MP, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi.

“While we spend most of our time discussing local and national issues, the beauty of being a British Parliamentarian is that almost every day we conduct debates on what is happening around the world. It enriches our democracy and strengthens the capabilities of MPs since they must have the ability to research widely and build an international outlook on life. Such debates inform our collective national thinking and also aid in providing constructive criticism to our friends and allies globally.”

Dhesi is well aware of the narratives being presented by the Indian government and media, in particular, the messaging that any individual who speaks out against the Modi regime is an “anti-national” or a terrorist. 

“It certainly is not anti-national, or anti-India, to be voicing concerns about the policies of the government of the day, whosoever that may be. In the UK, we consistently scrutinise the actions of our government and also foreign governments; indeed, it’s the sign of a healthy democracy”, said Dhesi.

Bally Singh, the owner of Rich List Group, had previously gone as far as to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra and will be watching the debate closely. 

“I hope our Prime Minister understands what this debate is about this time as the last time he said something he left the whole world, MP Dhesi, and the rest of us very confused.” Bally Singh is referencing Prime Minister Johnson previously confusing the farmers’ protest for an issue of Pakistan-India tensions in a now viral exchange in Parliament.  

“As a leader of the country, he should have the knowledge of what is going on around the world and especially as he had a trip arranged to visit the PM of India. This is the world’s largest protest and he is completely oblivious, it's quite embarrassing”, added Bally Singh.

Tiran Kaur Khehra, a Policy Insight Analyst, was behind setting up the template letter which petition supporters were asked to use in engaging their local MPs for a grassroots mobilization campaign around the issue. She believes the UK government’s weak positioning on Indian state violence against the farmers’ protest drove the success of the petition. 

“The petition was heavily promoted following (First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary) Dominic Raab’s response in the aftermath of his visit to India and prior to Boris Johnson’s canceled visit to India for Republic Day. Both the petition and the publicly available letters to local MPs templates meant a vested grassroots interest by the Indian diaspora.”

Birmingham Edgbaston MP, and a daughter of a farmer, Preet Kaur Gill has heard from her constituents and many others across the country on how important this issue is for them. 

"Over 100,000 people have signed this petition to get it to the House of Commons and so that just shows the level of feeling in respect to the farmers' protest.” 

Gill has been lobbying several MPs to raise awareness of the farmers’ protest, understanding the weight of this now global issue. 

Supporters include House of Commons Shadow Leader Valerie Vaz, MP for Beaconsfield Joy Morrissey, MP for Feltham and Hounslow Seema Malhotra, MP for Glasgow Central Alison Thewliss, MP for Romsey and Southampton North Caroline Nokes, and MP for Wolverhampton North East Jane Stevenson. Many more have signed a cross-party letter sent to Raab requesting that he meet with MPs to explain what the government is currently doing about the concerning new developments and state-sponsored human rights abuses at the farmers’ protest.

“This is now a globally recognised issue and as such, on Monday, the eyes of the world will be on us with many watching in India online. Most importantly, this will include the Indian government who will need to be clear on their response to this issue as it is an internationally recognised human right for people to be able to peacefully protest”, adds Gill.

Tony Shergill, of Brit Asia TV, has been watching the agitation closely and summarizes a sentiment shared by many in the diaspora - one of gratefulness to their ancestors who have been tilling the lands of Punjab.

“They contributed immeasurably to the proud culture and values that are so ingrained in our people and everything we do. We have a debt to them we can never fully repay. They are the lifeblood of India, they have been through unimaginable strife to feed us, and now we must help them.”

As for what Gurch Singh is expecting from Monday?

“There will be much media interest in the debate.  Our expectation in the UK Government will do more than it has been doing knowing the strength of feeling of MPs and the impact on British residents and their families in India who are directly impacted.”

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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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