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We, the undersigned, condemn in the strongest possible terms, the house arrest of Richa Singh and harassment of other activists by the government of Uttar Pradesh in India. These actions constitute targeted suppression of protest and clampdown on dissenting voices by an authoritarian state.
Richa Singh, a founding member of Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (SKMS) and a national convenor of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, has agitated tirelessly with the most marginalized farmers, laborers, and women in Sitapur District of Uttar Pradesh since 1996. On January 7th, the police stopped her in her hometown of Sitapur as she was joining the tractor rally in support of the farmers’ protests against the Indian Farms Reforms of 2020 that have shaken the country since 26 November 2020. While Richa was permitted to join the rally after speaking to the authorities, she was followed by two plainclothes police personnel. That same evening, she was placed under house arrest and prevented from accessing medical care in Lucknow.
In spite of multiple attempts to learn why Richa Singh has been placed under house arrest, the only vague reason provided by the authorities is their ‘suspicion’ that she intends to join the farmers’ protests in Delhi. The details of where the police received this information have not been shared with Richa Singh, contravening her civil rights to be informed of the basis for her house arrest. There also does not seem to be an order for the arrest.
Richa Singh’s house arrest has coincided with the harassment of activists in other parts of Uttar Pradesh, including Varanasi, where an activist-delegation complained to the Divisional Commissioner that the Police were harassing them for going to Delhi and supporting the farmers’ agitation. The Additional District Magistrate also issued a notice under Goondas Act to an activist Mr. Ramjanam, who has been directed to appear before the Court on January 15th. Kripa Verma, Fazal-ur-Rehman Ansari, Lakshmi Prasad were also subjected to similar harassment by the police.
These incidents fit into a broader pattern of arbitrary detentions of democratic rights activists and leaders of farmer’s organizations across Uttar Pradesh and in other states of India. They are a part of the rising trend to suppress voices of dissent and people’s demands, contravening people’s constitutional right to protest. Leaders and activists from various states, as well as members of the civil society, have been placed under house arrests and prevented from showing solidarity with the farmers’ movement in Delhi.
Such stifling of support of the farmers’ movement is a sickening attempt by the Indian state to cast the protesting farmers in Delhi as a misguided minority without broad support. The state has been trying to discredit the protests as limited to farmers from Punjab and Haryana, spreading rumors about foreign funding while invoking references to a (separatist) movement for Khalistan, and claiming that mazdoors and kisaans from states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are not standing with them. Pan-Indian farmers’ solidarity, especially with its demand for MSP (minimum support price), poses a grave threat to the state’s collaboration with corporate interests.
However, the poorest of farmers and farm laborers in organizations such as SKMS, many of them Dalit women, are clearly able see how the 2020 reforms (farmers’ bill) are disastrous for them and also for India’s food security. The state seeks to suffocate their voices in solidarity with the farmers’ movement, and any activist or leader who comes in the way is being punished. These illegal acts against protesting citizens must be reversed.
The international community of Indian diaspora stands in solidarity with the protesting farmers, their families, social movement organizations, and activists. We demand that:
(i) the three farm laws enacted under the Indian Farm Reforms of 2020 be immediately repealed;
(ii) state authorities across India ensure the protection of citizen’s civil rights, including their rights to protest, to stand in solidarity with the farmers’ movement, and to make demands of the elected government;
(iii) Uttar Pradesh Police immediately release Richa Singh from house arrest and allow her access to medical care and freedom of movement;
(iv) Uttar Pradesh Police and government provide adequate explanation and compensation for the unconstitutional curbing of her right to travel and to access medical care;
(v) Uttar Pradesh Police immediately withdraw the notice issued to activist Ramjanam under the Goondas Act.