The government insists everything on which the citizens are in protest is an internal matter. The bigger the protest, the louder the claim. The scrapping of Article 370 with Kashmir having no say in its own status, no representation in the Rajya Sabha was an internal matter. The highly controversial Citizenship Amendment Act that ostensibly applied only to immigrants and refugees from neighbouring countries, but was intended to target Indian Muslims who couldn’t prove citizenship as an open secret – was an internal matter. Farmers of India up in arms about the controversial farm bills is an internal matter.
The real internal matter is that the government wants to limit the scope of any dissent with it to people it can subjugate. International celebrities, journalists, governments or United Nations are beyond the ability of the government to silence. Hence it invents a reason why they must not speak at all.
Yet the truth is that human interaction, compassion or opinion is not limited by borders. The “internal matter” can be defined in many ways. Agriculture is a State subject, so why is the Central government not just interfering in an internal matter, but doing it in a manner that causes distress to the farmers of the States responsible for governing it? What is internal and what is external is defined by where you draw a border. Someone humorously argued that if the Central government is creating a border at Delhi and keeping out farmers of other places, its arbitrary laws should apply only within Delhi.
On a serious note, what is the place you belong to? Is it your home? Building? Area? City or village? District? State? Country? Continent? Planet? If we go by the Prime Minister’s own words, the world is a family. So then the plight of the farmers of India is an internal matter for all the citizens of the world and extra-terrestrials may not comment on it. If interfering in the internal matters of a countri is not acceptable, how was Modi interfering in the democratic elections of another country with all the Howdy Modi and Ab ki baar Trump Sarkar?
The truth of it is that these are boundaries of governance, nested inside each other. Human contact goes beyond them. Indians participated in the Black Lives Matter movement not because it wanted to interfere in the internal matters of another country or defund police departments in the United States, but because they saw injustice and wanted to fight against it. Similarly, when people outside India support the farmers protesting against the government, they are not terrorists or in an international conspiracy against the country, but moved by the plight of countless people living on the road for months in a protest for the very survival of their livelihood (and likely lives, given that farmer suicides are directly linked to unsustainable livelihoods).
It takes a special kind of heartlessness to watch people whose lives are directly affected by a law and think that they don’t know what helps or harms them. It takes a special kind of ignorance to look at them and believe that they exist only to cause political turmoil, as though they have no lives and aspirations beyond being someone’s nuisance. What would it take for you to leave your home and go and stand before an authority in protest for months on end? Would someone whispering bad things in your ear achieve it? Would someone paying you a few hundred rupees do it? But the farmers are so dehumanized, that the government and their supporters believe this to be true.
Some international conspiracy is what makes people risk their lives, freedoms and comfort for months on end to live on some bitterly cold road. Can Rihanna whispering in Mia Khalifa’s ear achieve this? Even if Greta Thunberg published all about it? Could that make lakhs of Indians who didn’t even know them set aside their well being and participate in their conspiracy? To become terrorists? What does anti-national even mean in the context of people who have never been outside the country they were born in?
The cause of the protests are the farm bills, the agrarian distress, the deficit of trust with the government.
The relentless dehumanization of farmers has allowed the government to persecute them, activists speaking up for them, journalists reporting on them, news organizations giving them coverage. There is no gentle way to say this. The government has gone rogue and is attacking the people for political agendas that have nothing to do with laws or national interest.
In such a situation, the attention of the world is necessary to prevent a humanitarian disaster. If a problem is not solved at the level at which it is created, then a solution requires a higher level. If the Government of India is now against farmers, then it cannot also be the arbitrator and unilaterally impose its will on citizens. More importantly, the government has proved itself incapable.
It has not followed due process in the framing of the laws and it is not respecting democratic rights in protesting them. It has not offered coherent responses to criticism either and has instead chosen to recruit celebrities to parrot its stand, as though repeating it often enough is all the argument that is needed.
In the process, the government has shed all pretence at civility or dignity before the world as well. Supporters of the government are engaging in trolling and abuse of the niece of the Vice President of the United States!!! This is diplomatic insanity. But the government no longer cares.
Because the ego of one man is so gigantic, that they cannot revise any actions – however arbitrary, thoughtless or plain malicious. Only one who feels shame is capable of remorse. The government does not care about its methods as long as it gets results, and clearly the government still thinks repression will get it the results it wants.
However, it forgets one thing.
No government really has the power to stop people from talking to each other, forming opinions or involving themselves where they feel compelled to do so. There is no form with various governments that you have to submit to have an opinion on something. And the government has no way to control the opinions of others, because the only tools in its toolkit are oppressive and require them to have arbitrary authority over their targets. The Indian government cannot arrest citizens in other countries, target them with investigations and arbitrary legal proceedings. And this terrifies them so much that they now appear to be moving to another social media networking site altogether. Possibly as a precursor to blocking Twitter in India if it cannot shut up world opinion.
But they forget.
It isn’t interfering if it is welcomed. And the farmers are welcoming support from wherever they get it. And those who have not abdicated their compassion for fellow beings are supporting in increasing numbers from around the world.