‘Media Glare Is Fading, Not The Resolve Of Sikh Farmers’

Amrit Pal Singh (23), a BBA student who assists a US-based doctor at Tikri Border in providing medical support to protesting farmers, says they are ready to ‘weather’ any challenge

It has been nearly six months of the farmers’ protest, but we are in for the long haul. The numbers might be dwindling par jazba poora barkarar hai (the resolve is firm). You will find many of us from Punjab staying put here until a proper solution is found to the farmers’ grievances. The media interest is also dwindling but we know that those mediapersons who are still coming here are the ones who were truly invested in the issue right from the beginning. It warms my heart to see the exchange of views between protestors and mediapersons; after all interviews are about exchange of views.

I have been assisting Dr Swaiman Singh, a US-based doctor who has set up camp at Tikri Border and has been providing seva non-stop to protesters since January. Apart from registering my voice at the protest, I also serve as his assistant and accountant.

Amrit with Dr Swamiman Singh (seated first from the left)

After taking due permissions, we have turned a local bus depot into a medical camp where we provide basic medicines, first-aid facilities and have provisions for dental as well as eye check-ups. We also provide masks, sanitisers and have been trying to step up the processes here when it comes to Covid testing.

Apart from this, I do seva wherever it is required, right from providing medical support serving langars, to doing basic everyday chores like cleaning the washrooms etc. Summers are fully upon us and the trolleys that kept us safe during winters are now turning into tandoors literally, we can’t sleep in them any longer. So I contribute in the making of temporary bamboo and iron shelters to keep us safe from the heat.

Amrit with his team of medical volunteers at the protest site

While we are providing coolers wherever possible, we farmers are used to working in extreme heat and cold conditions. So extreme weather does not bother us too much. However, we need to take care of our elders and others and hence these shelters.

We had anticipated water shortage in the beginning of summers and we did suffer a bit because of shortage of water and milk, but things are back on track now and we have proper water supply. Dr Swaiman has set up big water filters at regular intervals so that the protesting public can access clean drinking water.

Amrit Pal with fellow protesters at Tikri Border

The recent Baishakhi celebrations provided us with renewed vigour and that day saw a huge rise in numbers. Many common people, artists and sportspersons came to show their solidarity and gave us a much needed shot in the arm. They might have gone back home as of now but they have told us that they are with us in spirit.

We are ready to ‘weather’ anything in order to find a solution to the problems of farmers but we sincerely hope that the government listens to us. Hamare buzurg itna kuch jhel rahe hain, wo sacchai ke liye sab kuch jhel sakte hain to hum bhi jhel sakte hain. They are our guiding light summer or winter cannot dampen our jazba.

A Tale Of Two Indian Protests In Media

About a decade ago, an anti-corruption protest in national capital Delhi provided the cue for several others across India. These protests, under the banner of India Against Corruption, and their mishandling by the Manmohan Singh government would go on to create the space for Narendra Modi’s 2014 swoop into the prime ministerial chair.

Till the anti-corruption protests happened, a common, now forgotten grouse was that the principal political opposition outfit, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), wasn’t doing enough to corner the Singh government. It is tempting to see contextual similarities with the present – the farmers’ protests are happening at a time when there’s much moaning about a weak opposition – but this piece focuses on something else, crucial differences in how several major TV news channels have treated the two sets of protests.

Remember how the channels covered the anti-corruption protests? Parked 24X7 at protest sites, they told us of the action unfolding on the main stage and in the sidelines, the upset and passion that was pulling the crowds, the celebrities lining up in solidarity, the wanting negotiating table manners of the government.

They reminded the government of its democratic duty to listen and be flexible, took exception to police excess, refused to lend credence to theories about the protestors being unreasonably maximalist or being backed by anti-national forces. (Yes, the anti-national card was around then too. It wasn’t as weaponized as it is now though.)

ALSO READ: Farmers Protest Is Modi Govt’s Biggest Test

In contrast, the farmers’ protest has found sympathy scarce in TV news rooms. Touching human interest stories, the kind that inspire and sustain participation in popular movements, abound but aren’t being told. Few channels are exhorting the government to act conciliatory, show heart. There are dark speculations about why farmers are not availing the government’s supposed generosity. And certainly government spokespersons aren’t being hauled up for insensitivity to the farmers’ cause, protestors’ deaths in the biting cold, or the unprecedented events of Republic Day. In the Singh era, ministerial heads were demanded – and furnished – for a lot less.

The difference is clear. In the case of the anti-corruption protests, the channels amplified the protestors’ voice, did not allow the government line to drive the narrative, played a key role in pressuring the government to persist with a difficult dialogue and eschew sharp tactics.

With the farmers’ protests, the government narrative has enjoyed disproportionate play, and nobody is really nudging the government into a sincere, sustained conversation or enjoining it to avoid coercive action. If anything, it has sometimes looked as if an assertion of state might is being advocated. Things would have been worse if not for a few honorable exceptions in the TV news business and some gutsy freelancers.

This isn’t the first time in recent years that news channels have trained their guns on an anti-government stance. The eagerness with which most have defended, indeed endorsed, the government’s positions and the ferocity they have reserved for its detractors have played a critical role in elevating the Modi persona and shoring up the BJP’s electoral fortunes despite an indifferent performance on several key fronts.

More importantly, they have given the government confidence to push ahead with contentious proposals, without fear of bad press and consequent electoral hurt. The danger a government, any government, anywhere, insulated from media criticism and voters’ anger presents is not difficult to imagine, and it is unconscionable on the part of the media, any one for that matter, to be complicit in such a project.

Am I overstating the influence of TV news, undermining the wisdom of the voter, and shooting the media-messenger here? No. Just consider the reach of TV news, the attractions of its immediacy and presentation, the subconsciously accepted authority of the reporter, anchor, and expert, the impact of incessant exposure over months and years to bias-ridden, rarely establishment-challenging messaging.

Much has been said about how things have come to such a pass. Blame has been laid on a mix of ownership changes, the demands of delivering ratings-driven, free content, and the emboldening in non-inclusive newsrooms at a time when casteist and communal sentiment is finding disturbingly open expression and approval all around.

The path to recovery, at least to a state where the TV media (others too) can bring itself to bat for the underdog, interrogate the government, and pursue an independently determined interpretation of national interest, isn’t going to be easy.

At this point, there appear no strong incentives, moral or commercial, among the errant to self-regulate. There is little reason for the government to disturb things as they stand either. Plus, governmental regulation, in any case, can be a double-edged sword and needs to be approached with caution.

None of this is compelling reason to give up on regulation options, but they do make a case for citizens to examine their own relationships with news channels, patronize non-partisan electronic media and print and digital publications that speak for the people, reject divisive and establishmentarian voices. It isn’t tough to find the ones to back, and the remote and subscription plan can be potent tools. It is time to stop being the subjects of mind control exercises. It is time to stop passively soaking the news. It is time to make it.

‘Work, Studies, Business… All Suffered From Internet Ban’

Noushad Saifi, 34, a social activist, says by suspending internet services near farmers’ protests sites, the government caused untold miseries on local residents as well as peaceful protesters

Roti, kapda, makan and the internet! In the current times, especially in the post-pandemic world, the internet has become some sort of a lifeline, a basic right of people. Many people’s livelihoods and education depend on the smooth and efficient functioning of the internet. Thus suspension of internet services near farmers protest sites by the government was a body blow for local residents.

One can understand an internet ban during riots, to check mindless violence, to keep miscreants or anti-social elements from spreading fake news. But to ban the internet during a peaceful protest is uncalled for. This is brutal suppression of democratic dissent.

We are a family of eight staying together: my parents, my wife, my two children and I. We also have a nephew and a niece staying with us because they wanted access to better education opportunities available in Delhi-NCR. One of them is in Class 10, another in Class 12, both Board Exam candidates and for them each day is crucial. Their studies suffered when the internet was banned twice in our locality recently.

ALSO READ: ‘Studies, Protest Both Important For My Future’

Students have anyway had a difficult year because of the pandemic and classes shifting to online mode. This is the year when they need support the most. We can’t afford them getting anxious about their future. I just hope their exams go off smoothly.

Saifi (inset) says people in his locality in Loni, UP, were badly hit by internet ban

If the internet spreads fake news, then it is also the most potent tool to counter disinformation. The day after the Republic Day violence in Delhi, our local representative tried to distance himself from the farmers protest. He said he never supported Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait. But locals circulated videos and photographs of him being present with Tikait that very day. Thus the internet ensured that the public can’t be taken for a ride anymore. They are not dependent on media to get the correct picture, for they can get it themselves and report it.

I have been taking part in the farmer protests from the beginning and I believe banning the internet leaves many people feeling unsafe and anxious. Many people draw courage to go to these protests because they feel connected and know that they can call or message their friends anytime if they find they are lost in a sea of people.

ALSO READ: ‘Rihana-Greta Amplified Voice Of Farmers’

Moreover, even though farmer protests is in the forefront, the shadow of coronavirus still looms large. I have nearly 200 groups on my WhatsApp where we coordinate together to provide help and support to people around us and even in remote areas. On the days when internet services were suspended, we were unable to help or reach out to people.

Even though the lockdown has ended, many professionals are still working from home. These men and women could not attend office when the internet was down.

Modiji encouraged everyone to go cashless and opt for online modes of payment post-demonetisation, but by banning the internet, the government has backtracked on its own promise. If a vendor cannot make an online payment in time due to internet ban, they will switch back to traditional mode of transactions. The government should keep all these factors in mind before taking any such drastic step.

‘Rihanna, Greta Have Amplified The Voice Of Farmers’

Neeraj Tyagi, a farmer leader from Mandola Village in Loni, Uttar Pradesh, says the Modi government which tried every trick in the book to suppress farmers’ voice is now worried about its global image

Galat ko galat, aur sahi ko sahi kahna, yehi ek insan ki pehchan hoti hai (A man of integrity will never be afraid of calling a spade a spade). I respect the fact that a global celebrity like Rihanna decided to speak up on the issue of Internet ban during farmers’ protest. I also respect the young child and environmental activist of mark, Greta Thunberg, who brought the matter to worldwide attention.

I think celebrity support, if given with good intent, helps engage people to look more deeply into a matter of public importance. Artists are sensitive, they feel deeply about other humans. We are all humans too, apart from being citizens of our respective countries.

When the largest democracy in the world is at risk, how long can people keep quiet? If Modiji and other leaders can comment on what is happening in other countries, why can’t international celebrities do it? As long as the language is not hateful and demeaning, people are within their right to raise their voice.

ALSO READ: Many Global Celebrities Spoke About Indian Farmers

The Indian celebrities who were sleeping while the farmers had been protesting, are now trying to defend the government, using a script drafted by the Ministry of External Affairs (#IndiaTogether #IndiaAgainstPropaganda).

Tyagi (far right) at a farmers’ protest site

Some are saying Greta Thunberg is a child and does not understand Central farm laws. I want to ask them: Do children not suffer during a crisis or disaster? It is in the interest of farmers that their issue are being talked about at global level. This will amplify the voice of the farmers and bring the government to the table for a meaningful dialogue.

Now, the government is concerned about its global image. Where was their concern when it was hammering nails on the road and barricading the border to stop farmers? Is a country’s image dented only when public figures question it and not how their leaders act?

ALSO READ: This Protest Is Modi Govt’s Biggest Test

Hasn’t this government come to power on the basis of sheer words? One of the major PR programmes during the 2014 elections was Chai pe Charcha; now it is shying away from charcha on matters of public importance. They brought in Farm Bills through ordinance, sidestepping any debate or dialogue.

This government tried to label anyone who questioned them as anti-national but now they are finding it difficult to suppress the voice of the farmers. The media too needs to stop taking sides and raise issue impartially rather than sensationalise them.

Discussion is the need of the hour. Parliament is a sacred place where even those who don’t have a voice, can find representation. The democracy is accountable to the people. And a democratically elected government should be able to answer when it is questioned.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

Not Just Rihanna-Greta, Many Global Figures Back Farmers Protest

Since the news of the Farmer’s Protests in India have started to make the International News, the surge in the support on social media has sky rocketed after celebrities such as  Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and US Vice President, Kamala Harris’s niece have shown their support.

While this has helped the international community become aware and understand better the protests that have been happening in India over the past 5 months there has been some backlash from the Indian authorities.

They issued a statement on Wednesday 3rd February 2021, accusing ‘foreign individuals’ and celebrities of ‘sensationalism’ following Rihanna’s post.

While Rihanna, has helped bring light to the farmer’s protests with her plus 100 million followers and her comment retweeted more than 230,000 times and liked by more than half a million users, she is not the first celebrity to speak out about the New Farm Laws. Take a look below how other celebrities from cricketer Monty Panesar and filmmaker Gurinder Chadha to American actor John Cussack have lend weight to the raging protests.

Farmers’ Agitation Is Modi Govt’s Biggest Test

Forget the Covid pandemic; forget the economic downturn; forget election debacles or political crises. The biggest test that the Modi regime, soon to turn seven years old, has been subjected to during its ongoing tenure is the deafening protests by farmers against the changes that the Indian government has sought to bring about in the way farmers are able to grow, market, and price their produce.

In the last three months, protests by farmers have reached a crescendo. On January 26, which was India’s 72nd Republic Day, a group of angry farmers deviated from their designated protest route, tried to storm the historic Red Fort, and clashed with police. As that was happening, a few kilometres away, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was presiding over the official Republic Day celebrations on Delhi’s Rajpath.

At least 70 farmers have died during the raging protests against three laws that the government has passed. And, the protests, which began in the northern state of Punjab, have now spread across the country. What makes the controversial farm laws and the protests against them such a big trial for Modi and his government? For an answer, let us first recapitulate the new laws and their impact.

The three new farm laws change decades-old policies regarding procurement and storage of farm produce. One law permits the setting up of mandis (or trading places) that are de-regulated from government control—that is, where farmers can sell directly to all traders at prices they negotiate rather than to only government licensed traders; another law permits farmers to enter into contract farming through deals with corporate entities and to grow whatever crops they decide to under contract; and the third allows traders to stock produce with less restrictions than at present.

The government’s rationale for these changes is ostensibly this: they will enable farmers to sell at whatever prices they want and to anyone they want to; and to be able to enter into contracts that could assure them regular and steady streams of income. From the ongoing protests, which have been escalating, it is quite evident that the farmer community has not bought this logic.

Farmers and their supporters feel that especially the smaller farmers whose incomes are meagre will be hit by the new measures. First, their produce volumes are too small for them to be able to negotiate prices with traders who aren’t regulated—thereby they would likely be exploited. Second, although the government has assured that the mandi system will not be dismantled, farmers fear that the new “unregulated” mandis will consequently do exactly that, and that small and medium farmers will suffer. Lastly, contract farming, they fear is a way of giving the corporate sector easy access to the farm sector.

Nearly 60% of 1.3 billion Indians depend either directly or indirectly on agriculture, which accounts for 18% of the GDP. But the farm sector is severely skewed. Almost 70% of Indian farmers own land that is less than 2 hectares (20,000 sq. m) in area. And as much as a quarter of Indian farmers subsist below the poverty line. Moreover, because of lack of alternative employment opportunities millions of Indians depend on the farm sector without really contributing to productivity.

Against that background, reforms in the agriculture sector are overdue. But changing the system of pricing and procurement of crops without other structural changes in the sector cannot be a solution. In fact, it could lead to further suffering for millions of Indian farmers. The farmers’ protests are a sign of how acute the problem is. And, for the Modi government, it is the most critical test that it faces in its tenure thus far. In 2016, Prime Minister Modi announced a sudden decision to demonetise large currency bills. Ostensibly, it was with the intent of limiting or detecting unaccounted money in the system. What resulted was: widespread suffering for small traders, daily wage earners and other large segments of the population that operate in the “cash economy”. Those with so-called unaccounted wealth went largely unscathed.

Demonetisation was certainly a critical test that the government faced. But its effects—on economic growth and on small businesses—were not nearly as serious as the impact of the new farm laws have been. Over the last few days, the clashes between farmers and the authorities have turned more violent, particularly in the areas surrounding the capital city of Delhi. The authorities resorted to blocking of Internet in various areas around the capital and neighbouring states—purportedly in efforts to curb social media interactions. Police resorted to tear gas and baton charges against thousands of protestors. Already, the ripples of what is happening in India have reached the world outside. And questions are being asked about the true value of democracy in a country that prides itself as being run on the highest democratic principles.

ALSO READ: The World Is Taking Note Of Indian Farmers’ Protest

The police and authorities’ action against famers’ protests have also spilled over to affect others. A freelance journalist, Mandeep Punia, who was covering the protests, was arrested on the border between Delhi and Haryana last weekend. He was granted bail after spending two days in custody and much outrage. Others have had cases filed against them for reporting or broadcasting news that has been considered “anti-government”.

But the more serious issue is that India’s mainstream media has almost been rendered toothless in recent years, particularly after the current government came to power in 2014. It does not require media experts to see how the majority of mainstream TV news channels and print publications largely avoid taking on the government and critiquing its policies. When they choose to do so the critiques are of the milquetoast variety, tailored not to ruffle the feathers of those in power too much. In any democracy, the role of the media as the fourth estate should be that of a watchdog. In India, at least when you look at it from a dispassionately distanced point of view, it may seem that the mainstream media is more of a lapdog.

For the Modi government, the farmers’ agitation has other possible consequences. The farm sector’s voters aggregate as the largest block during any election. And although the government at the Centre is safely ensconced for the next four years, there are crucial state elections that are due and those could be impacted by which way farmers decide to vote. Also, if the agitations escalate and food supplies are affected across India, they could have other economic consequences such as inflation and distribution bottlenecks. Already reeling from the impact of the Covid pandemic, the economy could be hit further. For the Modi government the farmers’ agitation over the controversial laws could be something that could bring it to its knees.

‘Red Fort Violence Was A Bid To Discredit Farmers Protest’

Imran Malik, 25, who participated in Tractor Rally from Ghazipur border to Seemapuri, says the march was peaceful and orderly. He feels the violence at Red Fort could be an attempt to discredit the movement

On January 26, I left my house early in the cold morning to stand in solidarity with our farmer brothers and sisters and take part in Kisan Tractor Rally with a few like-minded friends of mine. I am a resident of Delhi and support the farmers protest against Central agriculture laws. I come from a family of farmers in Uttar Pradesh and feel duty-bound to support our ‘anndatas‘ (providers).

We reached the Ghazipur border around 10 am, given the traffic was moving at snail’s pace. The atmosphere at the gathering point was electric; everyone around stood up for one another in true spirit of Republic Day celebration. There was an endless sea of tractors at the border and one could sense the binding spirit of the people fighting for their fundamental rights.

The security, as in every Republic Day, was really tight but the participants were also self-disciplined. A few people could be seen listening to the Prime Minister’s speech on their phones to find out if he had anything to say about them. The speech got over at around 12 pm and we came to know that many farmers present at other borders had removed the barricades and entered the National Capital.

ALSO READ: Global Implications Of Farm Laws

Soon, there were messages and news received on mobile phones that at certain points, there were clashes between protesters and police. Looking at the orderly march that I was a part of, it was imaginable that miscreants had penetrated into the rally participants. Kuch shararati tatvon ne movement ko bigadne ki koshish ki (Certain anti-social elements tried to discredit this movement).

However, there was no untoward incident in our cavalcade. We carried the Indian Tricolour with us and our tractor (belonging to a friend from Muradnagar) also had a music system fitted in it. We felt like we were all part of one nation, one voice. Indeed, it was a national festival.

Malik says his column of rally was orderly and peaceful

Our procession marched as was planned earlier and we moved from the Ghazipur border towards Seemapuri. En route, we met with posse of policemen, but the exchanges on both sides were cordial. After all, most security personnel in India too come from farming community. Rare is an extended family in India which is not involved in farming in some way or other.

By this time, around 1 pm, we received reports and messages that many protesters have entered Red Fort. I had no plans to go to Red Fort, so I left from home. Later I saw visuals of violence and clashes. I strongly condemn such incidents.

At the same time, the episode has forced the government to sit up and take note. The state has finally begun to listen to the people it claims to serve. Over the last few years, any group or individual who expressed any dissent would be treated disdainfully and dubbed as anti-national, or be blamed for identity politics.

But the government has been unable to find any chink in the formidable farmer protests. Ye movement bikhra nahi. The tractor rally yesterday was a symbol of determination that the farmers want to see this through to its logical end. The farmers are agitated because they are staring at a bleak future. The government which bulldozed its way through every other movement, such as one at Shaheen Bagh, should better sense the mood of the public and initiate dialogue in earnest.

Has the Indian Supreme Court Blurred Separation Of Powers?

The doctrine of the separation of powers requires that the three principal organs of State – that is the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – should be clearly divided in order to safeguard citizens’ liberties and to guard against governmental tyranny.

One of the earliest and clearest statements of the separation of powers was given by the infamous social commentator and political thinker Montesquieu at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1748:
‘When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty… there is no liberty if the powers of the judging is not separated from the legislative and executive… there would be an end to everything, if the same man or the same body… were to exercise those three powers.’

Therefore, according to the strict interpretation of the separation of powers, none of the three branches may exercise or interfere with the power of the other, nor should any person be a member of any two of the branches. For instance, only by creating three separate institutions is it possible to have a robust system of democratic checks and balances between them.

The Constitution of India does not expressly provide for the separation of powers. Unlike the Constitutions of the US and Australia. However, it still recognises and incorporates the doctrine of the separation of powers between the three principal organs of State. Therefore, whilst no formal or codified lines have been drawn between them, it is widely recognised and accepted that the doctrine of the separation of powers ‘runs through’ the Constitution of India.

Furthermore, there is often an overlap in the scope of the functions of the three branches. Primarily, owing to the parliamentary form of colonial Government in India. In other words, the dividing line between the executive and the legislature is naturally rather a fine one. Nevertheless, under India’s Constitution, the executive can legislate using:

The ordinance making powers of the President and the governors; and delegate executive legislation.

The legislature also exercises some form of control over the judiciary in that it can legislate on the Constitution itself, the jurisdiction and powers of the criminal and civil courts and it can also impeach judges when they are found to be acting or to have acted ultra vires (outside of their jurisdiction).

The judiciary has wide powers to review and strike down unconstitutional executive and legislative decisions and actions. However, the legislature can make such rulings ineffective by amending the law while staying within the constitutional limits. This concept is known as ‘legislative overruling’ and is a prime example of the inherent checks and balances under the Constitution which further strengthen the separation of powers in India.

Moreover and despite the fact that the three branches interconnect and have functional overlaps, the Indian judiciary has recognised the doctrine of the separation of powers as a fundamental feature of the Indian Constitution and an essential principle underpinning the rule of law.

During the course of a recent hearing relating to the Three Farm Laws, the Indian Supreme Court reportedly observed that it has the jurisdiction to stay the implementation of parliamentary legislation and did in fact go on to direct an interim order to that effect. In other words, a judicial order that prevents the executive or the legislature from implementing the Three Farm Laws into India’s domestic legislation.

However, this decision was taken despite the Supreme Courts own reasoning or judicial guidance laid down in the landmark case of Divisional Manager Aravali Golf Course v Chander Haas 2007. In which it was stated:
‘Before parting with this case we would like to make some observations about the limits of the powers of the judiciary. We are compelled to make these observations because we are repeatedly coming across cases where Judges are unjustifiably trying to perform executive or legislative functions. In our opinion this is clearly unconstitutional. In the name of judicial activism Judges cannot cross their limits and try to take over functions which belong to another organ of the State.

Therefore, the Supreme Court has specifically stated that judges must exercise judicial restraint and must not encroach on the jurisdictional capabilities or legislative actions of the legislature or the executive. In other words, the Supreme Court has previously declared that there is a broad separation of powers in India’s Constitution and that each primary organ of the State must remain within its limits and not intrude on the domain or jurisdiction of another.

Therefore, it follows that when the Indian Parliament enacted the Three Farm Laws in September 2020 Parliament was and remains the only organ of State who could repeal the laws or suspend their operation by enacting alternative legislative provisions. However and as previously mentioned, the Supreme Court can declare parliamentary legislation ultra vires if it finds it to be unconstitutional, but it has no jurisdiction to temporarily stay its enforcement without recording a judicial finding that it is on prima facie examination (at first glance) unconstitutional . Therefore, as no such finding has been made in the case in hand, this action cannot be said to amount to anything less than either a monumental demonstration of support on behalf of the judiciary for the plight of India’s small farmers, or a wholly unconstitutional and undemocratic judicial act which in turn should be immediately redressed.

Nevertheless, another fault line that could emerge from the Supreme Court’s intervention stems from the appointment of a four member committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge ‘for the purpose of listening to the grievances of the farmers and the views of the government and to make recommendations’. However, the Supreme Court has previously set up similar committees, delegating some of its powers to committee members to implement or oversee specific laws or an order of the court. For instance, in 2017 the Supreme Court directed the establishment of family welfare committees whose mandate would be to assess complaints of domestic violence before they were investigated by the police. However, this decision attracted widespread criticism and was eventually rolled back. Nevertheless, a committee working to alleviate the pressures and restraints on India’s police force is one thing but a committee recommending whether three pieces of primary legislation must be stayed or repealed is another thing entirely and caution must be paid to the unconstitutionality of it all.

ALSO READ: International Implications Of India’s Farm Laws

For instance, whilst the Supreme Court’s decision clearly reflects the legitimacy of the ongoing farmer protests – the Supreme Court would not have issued an interim order if it considered the farmers legal case against the Government to be wholly without merit. If appropriate caution is not exercised by the Supreme Court Judges this judicial decision could have far reaching negative implications for India’s future democratic governance and the rule of law. In other words, public confidence in the judiciary and in the Government is inevitably going to be affected as India’s population begins to lose faith in the sanctity of Parliaments legislative authority.

Perhaps the Supreme Courts objective was to break the ongoing deadlock between the farmers and the Government. For instance, do not forget that prior to the week commencing the 01 December 2020 PM Narendra Modi and his majority government had failed or refused to consult or to negotiate with the farmers and the farmer leaders – a decision which in itself amounts to a clear violation of Articles 2, 10, 11 and 15 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas 73/165 (UNDROP) (of which India is signatory) and various other primary instruments of international law. For more information on this point please see Sikh Human Rights Group working paper entitled Applicable International Treaties, Conventions and Regulations Re: India’s Agricultural Crisis.

Nevertheless, Sikh Human Rights Group respectfully submits that the Supreme Court judges must quickly come to the realisation that the judiciary cannot single headedly resolve the issues surrounding the Three Farm Law and must concurrently declare the Three Farm Laws unconstitutional whilst refraining from trespassing on the inherent jurisdiction of the legislature and the executive. 

For instance, according the Articles 253 and 254 of the Constitution, the power to ratify international Treaties and Conventions is vested with the Government (executive) and there is no need to place the Treaty or Convention before Parliament (legislature) even if the Treaty or Convention has monetary obligations. Therefore, international intergovernmental agreements to uphold the provisions of specific international Treaties and Conventions, such as the UNDROP, are actionable or the provisions are actionable in India’s domestic courts without express Parliamentary legislation to that effect.

Therefore, as Article 9(3) of the UNDROP provides that:
‘States shall take appropriate measures to encourage the establishment of organizations of peasants and other people working in rural areas, including unions, cooperatives or other organizations, particularly with a view to eliminating obstacles to their establishment, growth and pursuit of lawful activities, including any legislative or administrative discrimination against such organizations and their members, and provide them with support to strengthen their position when negotiating contractual arrangements in order to ensure that conditions and prices are fair and stable and do not violate their rights to dignity and to a decent life’.

In SHRG opinion this provision clearly provides the Supreme Court with legitimate grounds to declare the Three Farm Laws ‘unconstitutional’ as Article 21 of the Constitution specifically states that ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty’.Which in turn has previously been held by the Supreme Court to encompass a constitutional right to earn a livelihood or a decent standard of living. For example, in the case of Olga Tellis v Bombay Municipal Corporation (1986) it was stated by the presiding Supreme Court judges that:
‘The question which we have to consider is whether the [constitutional] right to life includes the right to livelihood. We see only one answer to that question, namely, that it does. The sweep of the right to life conferred by Article 21 [of the Constitution] is wide and far-reaching. It does not mean, merely that life cannot be extinguished or taken away as, for example, by the imposition and execution of the death sentence… That is but one aspect of the right to life an equally important facet of that right is the right to livelihood because, no person can live without the means of living, that is, the means of livelihood’.

By Mr Carlos Arbuthnott

(The writer is a Master of Laws in international human rights and Human Rights Officer with the Sikh Human Rights Group. Views expressed are personal)

Hindutva Propaganda Machinery At Work

As young journalists we learnt our basic lesson that when a dog bites a man it is not news, when a man bites a dog, it is. We also learnt that if a lie is told a thousand times, repeatedly and incessantly, as practiced by the Guderian Nazi propaganda machinery, it might indeed become an absolute truth. A lie becomes a truth. An organized web of lies, hence, turns into a grand bouquet of established legitimacy.

In contemporary India, this could truly be called the phenomena of post-truth of the new normal, though it might look like a theatre of the absurd at times. Or how fake news, pure propaganda, camouflaged as breaking news, or news repeated many times as partisan opinion, in a shrill, one-dimensional repeat-narrative on TV, sometimes with doctored videos, becomes the chronicle of a media prophecy foretold. Witness the demonization of JNU, its inherited intellectual, academic and progressive tradition, and the character assassination of its scholars and student leaders. (Ironically, this does not stop the huge rush of new students to the beautiful campus every new admission year.)

There is no dark irony here. This is exactly like in the Nazi times. That is the original template. It’s just that this entire mainline and fringe media apparatus, often operating as rabble-rousers, actually operate 24×7 to legitimize and reinforce the current power structure, its policies and programmes, its corporate lobbies and vested interests.

In the process, it reinforces the politics of a polarizing ideology and entrenched xenophobia, sectarian, anti-secular and hate rhetoric, and the hounding of dissenters, intellectuals, scholars, writers and journalists. So much so, the police version is most often the most sacrosanct and absolute version and status quo journalism is the only form they know and practice.

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Witness the demonization and hounding of the Tablighis, finally proved null and void by a court. So much so, it was viciously circulated that Muslims actually spread Corona in India. Thus, a large mass of people in India can be quickly condemned as anti-nationals, urban Naxals, Maoists, Pakistani agents, and tukde-tukde gang, often even before the Indian State led by the BJP, has just about given an ambiguous signal.

This is the role the Rightwing and assorted media plays in India these days. Thereby, it unabashedly backs the State apparatus, benefits from the economic and profit linkages, is backed by the corporates who are backing the BJP openly, and thereby legitimizes the dominant discourse of the ruling regime.

This was the standard tactic used against the mothers and sisters of Shaheen Bagh not only in Jamia but all over the country before and during the nation-wide anti-NRC-CAA protests. It became integral to the repeated branding of a huge mass of unidentified people as “termites” in Northeast India and in Bengal, once again, with no evidence or documentation. Like the Jews in Europe reduced to third class citizens with no rights by the Nazis, one community was yet again targeted in India.

However, once the final data came out of the official NRC survey, it was found that lakhs of Hindus were missing too, and other indigenous communities, from the final register of Indian citizens. That put the termite theory to rest for the time being, though, let us not forget that Jews too were branded as pests, cockroaches, termites, dirty, diabolical, anti-Christ, so that the denial of citizenship, or the Holocaust, was accepted by the ‘pure races’ for ‘national purification’. This was also the American propaganda during the Vietnam War against the ‘unwashed masses and peasants’ who were fighting a protracted and victorious guerilla war against the most powerful militarized nation in the world.

In India, it all seems to be following a predictable pattern. The Rightwing media and other media propaganda outfits working openly or tacitly for the cult glorification of Narendra Modi as a messiah, prophet and demi-god, propagates the ideology of hard Hindutva (which is different from Hinduism), and thereby debunks or demonizes individuals and ideologies which are in opposition, which stand for the values of the Indian freedom struggle, or, the pluralist, secular Indian Constitution.

The Shahen Bagh movement wanted the reassertion of the Indian Constitution. Its symbols enshrined on their public platforms were icons of the freedom movement and secular India: Ambedkar, Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose, Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan, Sarojini Naidu, Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqullah Khan, Chandrashekhar Azad, Rabindranath Tagore, among others. However, they were constantly reduced to hate objects, implying that they are pro-Pakistan, jihadis, anti-nationals, and ‘gaddaars’, as a Union minister openly declared, asking them to be shot. This did not, however, help the BJP to win the Delhi state polls.

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This is the pattern they have again chosen, and abysmally failed, in handling the farmers’ protests. The sheer resilience of the farmers’ movement right now in lakhs from across several states in north and western India (and not only from Punjab and Haryana) on the various borders of Delhi, preparing for a Republic Day showdown, has debunked the BJP propaganda machinery. Even while one Union minister joined in the branding of farmers as Khalistanis, Maoists, Leftists and Urban (Turban!) Naxals, it just did not work.

The theory that the Sangh Parivar operates in multiple synthesis in a smooth orchestra like a hydra-headed octopus of a joint family, is true. Though, it sometimes gets jarring.

At one time, it was the symphony between the moderate and hard line of Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani. Journalists would then claim that the Hindutva fringe is different from mainstream, political BJP — so let’s not blur the lines. However, clearly, this theory has all but collapsed in the current one-dimensional scenario with Modi as the one and only supremo commanding over the entire Hindutva machinery, and the power structure of the partisan State apparatus, with Amit Shah as his trouble-shooter, and the RSS as his ally.

So much so, the line between the fringe and mainstream in the party and Sangh Parivar has totally merged. This has been witnessed by the rise of an extreme hardliner like Yogi Adityanath, who is now being followed as a role model by ‘moderates’ like Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh.

This paradigm shift in power has been lucidly translated between the fringe and mainstream media backing Modi like an eternal and only monarch of all that he surveys. One of these portals actually calls itself liberal and right of center. Others post stories which are like regular stories in a mainline English daily. However, it is the content, or the opinion between the lines, which is often insidious and tells us who is actually biting — the man or the dog!

For instance, one of them dug out other critical tweets of the former Group Captain of the Indian Air Force flying Go Air lines, who has been suspended for calling an anonymous PM ‘an idiot’. The portal is tacitly saying, look, this man has a bad record, etc!

In a spoofy irony, these pro-BJP portals are now going full blast against what they call the ‘Big Tech’ conspiracy, especially in America. They claim that these global, big money conglomerates are basically Left flunkeys. Why – because Donald Trump has been banned by Twitter and Facebook! This is censorship, not acceptable!

Their lament is heartbreaking. Suddenly, it seems that the Hindutva media has now opened yet another front against Big Tech American Capitalism, even while Modi has been called as the best buddy of two big Gujarati capitalists in India by the protesting farmers. Trump, surely, has his Proud Boys, even in India.

‘The World Is Taking Note Of Indian Farmers Protest’

Gurcharan Singh, 54, a teacher in Toronto, says farmers protest has now become a people’s movement. Every weekend, he attends demonstrations before Indian consulate in biting cold

I have been a Canadian citizen for the last 25 years but that doesn’t mean I have forgotten India. My heart is still there and so is my extended family who are all farmers. Before I shifted to Canada 30 years back, I was a farmer in Punjab. I worked at the fields during my studies and even after I had taken up a job in India.

I still fancy farming and look forward to owning a farm in Canada in future. Therefore, I understand the challenges and hardships a farmer faces. I understand how unpredictable a farmer’s life can get and in India, MSPs are the only predictable thing for this community.

Since the matter was so close to my heart I braved the sub-zero freezing cold and the fear of coronavirus to take part in anti-farm laws protest in Canada. Major demonstrations and car rallies are held every weekend in our city outside Indian consulate while sporadic protests take place here and there as well. Each weekend, protesters drove down in various vehicles from cars, tractors, goods trucks, dump trucks, trailers etc, some from as far as 45-50 kilometres, to reach the consulate. I have attended all the weekend rallies since December 12.

A protester in Toronto displays his solidarity with Indian farmers

The protests have been peaceful. On December 19, we gathered at the centre of the city on Dundas Square (Toronto) where we were confronted by a Modi supporter. However, the organizers calmly requested him to go away. Then we were escorted by police and marched on city streets three kilometres to the consulate office. Nothing can stop us.

All three bills are very dangerous. If the first Bill gets passed, the corporates will kill state-run mandis and MSP system. I support MSP for all 23 crops. Even vegetables and fruits should have MSP, if we want to keep our farmers alive.

The second bill about contract farming is worse. Some farmers in Sangrur (Punjab) and Gujarat have already experienced its adverse impact in their dealings with cola major Pepsi. Moreover, the lack of dispute redressal mechanism can prove to be very dangerous for the farmers.

Third bill is about unlimited storage of crops. When under new law only one company (Adani group) will be controlling the storage and distribution to consumers, then they will be controlling the whole distribution process. Artificial shortage will be created and consumers will have to pay five times more prices.

ALSO READ: ‘Govt Wants Farm Sector To Go Telecom Way’

I am glad that Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is openly supporting the farmers movement. Not only him, but the Opposition leader, Erin O’ Toole (Conservative Party) and Jagmeet Singh (New Democratic Party) also support the farmers. The idea of corporatisation of farming was tried in Canada some 40-50 years back and our leaders know what a failure it was, which is why they are standing with the Indian farmers.

A protester holds an anti-Modi placard in Toronto

I feel Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi is running away from his responsibilities. He is bending over backwards to please his corporate friends, Adani and Ambani. I think he is unable to accept his failure. Farmers from Punjab started this protest and now it has become a people’s movement. It has brought people from all religions, all professional backgrounds together like never before. The movement will stop BJP’s engine running on the fuel of Hindutva.

We will keep voicing our dissent in our part of the world. I do not have to take time off from work because most of the protests happen on weekends. I attend the protests with my wife, son (24), daughter (19) and family friends. Even though my children are Canada-born they do understand the ground realities of India.

My daughter drove nearly 100 kms from her University in Waterloo to the protest site just so she could register her voice. She also spent a lot of time making posters for the protests. I was filled with pride to see that first, second and even third generation Indians, including Sikhs, were present at the rallies. This is no longer just an Indian farmers issue anymore; the whole world is taking note of the situation.

Singh (in green turban) and other protesters brave freezing cold to voice their dissent