Amnesty International: India derogates farmers’ freedom to peaceful protest

Amnesty International released a statement on Wednesday warning of the Indian government’s disproportionate restrictions on the right to peaceful protest to quell the “Dilli Chalo” farmers protest. In response to farmers’ protests against agricultural policies, Indian authorities imposed limitations on group gatherings, barricaded along the route of the protest march and deployed tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters.

Over 200 farmers’ unions are marching from northern Indian states including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to converge in the Indian capital, New Delhi. The protests began after the government failed to deliver on promises made in 2021 to guarantee the minimum price of crops (minimum support pricing). The protesters are also demanding secure pensions, debt waivers and penalties on the sale of fake agricultural products.

In response to the protest, the Indian government invoked section 144 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code to ban public gatherings and set up blockades and checkpoints to bar protesters from entering New Delhi. The section empowers a magistrate to issue an injunction when the magistrate deems the order necessary and effective in maintaining peace, tranquility, public safety and public order.

Amnesty International condemned the state’s responses to the peaceful protests with Aakar Patel, chair of board at Amnesty International India, saying:

Instead of facilitating the right to protest, the Indian government is yet again going to great lengths to quash the farmers’ peaceful protests in the country. The ‘Dilli Chalo’ march has been met with a crackdown by the authorities which runs counter to the government’s obligations not to restrict peaceful assemblies unnecessarily or disproportionately…Amnesty International urges the Indian authorities to stop crushing peaceful dissent and remove all the unnecessary restrictions that hinder peaceful protests in the country, including blanket bans, internet shutdowns preventing the circulation of timely information, as well as the unlawful use of force by law enforcement officials.

Amnesty International also criticised the use of tear gas through drones against protesters yesterday on the outskirts of Delhi. Local media reported, confirmed by the official sources, that the police fired around 4,500 tear gas grenades within six hours to disperse the protesters. Patel condemned the use of excessive force, stating that law enforcement should consider tear gas as a ‘last resort’ and deploy it only after conducting a careful risk assessment, issuing a verbal warning, and providing an opportunity for participants to disperse.

This series of protest sees Indian farmers take to the streets after a previous year-long protest which began in 2020. Despite the prevalence of COVID-19 at the time, thousands camped at the borders of Delhi to protest against now-scrapped agricultural reform proposals. The strikes were called off after the government agreed to demands of the farmers at the time and these protests are based on propelling the government to fulfil these promises.