Farmer Protests in India

A number of my constituents have contacted me about the impact of three new Indian laws on the livelihood of farmers and those dependent on farming in India. On Thursday 3 December 2020, I signed a joint letter to the Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, asking him to make representations with his Indian counterpart regarding the impact of these laws. You can read the letter in full below: 

Dear Dominic,

Developments in the Punjab on farmer rights in India and the wider political ramifications

Over the last month, a number of MPs would have written to you and the Indian High Commission in London about the impact of three new Indian laws on exploiting farmers and those dependent on farming in India. The introduction of these new laws by the Indian government (Centre) have, despite the Coronavirus, triggered widespread farmers’ protests across the country for failing to protect farmers from exploitation and to ensure fair prices for their produce.

This is an issue of particular concern to Sikhs in the UK and those linked to the Punjab, although it also heavily impacts on other Indian states. Many British Sikhs and Punjabis have taken this matter up with their MPs, as they are directly affected with family members and ancestral land in the Punjab. Being famous as “India’s bread-basket”, many Punjabis rely on farming for their existence. About three-quarters of the state’s 30 million-strong population is involved in agriculture. Therefore, these new laws present the Punjabis with a huge problem, with some describing it as a “death warrant”.

The Punjabi farming community is widely recognised as the backbone of the state’s economic structure and the farmers’ concerns are a powerful factor in national and state politics. It’s therefore not surprising that it has resulted in a considerable fallout between the Centre and elected politicians from virtually all political parties in the Punjab. There have been resignations and amendment bills have been passed by the Punjab Vidhan Sabha (Assembly). The state’s Chief Minister has sought time from the President, pursuant to the decisions taken in the Vidhan Sabha Session.
On Wednesday 28 October, I chaired an urgent virtual Zoom lobby, with many members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs in attendance. 14 MPs participated, despite the recess, with over 60 MPs sending apologies, but wanting to be kept informed of developments and actions, which they could take on behalf of anxious constituents. Parliamentarians and constituents were addressed by speakers from India, the UK, Europe and North America about the impact of the controversial laws on the Sikh-majority Punjab state.

The two main guest speakers from the Punjab directly involved in leading the protests provided an excellent insight into the issue and the wider context. MPs were told of the human tragedy of farmer suicides due to debt, which had taken thousands of lives and the new laws have added to that tragedy.

Many expressed concern that based on past experiences, the situation could seriously deteriorate. The Sikh Council UK presented results from an ongoing survey, showing that 92% of UK Sikhs have ties to agricultural land in India and 84% are personally concerned about the impact of the new laws. Another stark statistic is that 93% of respondents felt that human rights violations will increase following the mass protests by Punjabi farmers.

This is a joint letter from the MPs listed below calling for:
• an urgent meeting with you to discuss the deteriorating situation in the Punjab and its relationship with the Centre;
• representations to be made by yourself to your Indian counterpart about the impact on British Sikhs and Punjabis, with longstanding links to land and farming in India;
• an update of any communications the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has had with the Indian Government on this issue, including with the Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Shringla, who visited the UK on 4 November.

Yours sincerely,

Tan Dhesi MP
Debbie Abrahams MP
Apsana Begum MP
Sir Peter Bottomley MP
Sarah Champion MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Jon Cruddas MP
John Cryer MP
Geraint Davies MP
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP
Allan Dorans MP
Andrew Gwynne MP
Afzal Khan MP
Ian Lavery MP
Emma Lewell-Buck MP
Clive Lewis MP
Tony Lloyd MP
Khalid Mahmood MP
Seema Malhotra MP
Steve McCabe MP
John McDonnell MP
Pat McFadden MP
Grahame Morris MP
Caroline Nokes MP
Kate Osborne MP
Virendra Sharma MP
John Spellar MP
Zarah Sultana MP
Sam Tarry MP
Alison Thewliss MP
Stephen Timms MP
Valerie Vaz MP
Claudia Webbe MP
Nadia Whittome MP
Munira Wilson MP
Mohammad Yasin MP