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Oxford SU passes emergency motion condemning police brutality amid India farming protests

Oxford’s Student Union has mandated its President to release an open letter supporting farmers who have participated in mass protests in India and to condemn the violent methods used by police to clamp down on the demonstrations. 

An emergency motion passed at a Student Council meeting on Tuesday read:

The SU is a place of inclusion, which supports democracy and peace, and has a proud history of condemning police brutality, including last year’s motion condemning the police brutality used against protestors in Hong Kong.

As such, the SU’s President has been mandated to release an open letter on the SU’s social media by the end of Hilary term to voice support for Indian farmers and their right to protest peacefully.

The Student Council passed the motion to “express solidarity with SU representatives across the globe” and “support its students in times of adversity, especially when they are far away from home”.

Protests against India’s new agriculture laws – that weaken the bargaining power of farmers – have now entered their third month. The new legislation was passed in September 2020, but farmers’ unions have demanded their repeal. 

The three new laws weaken existing government regulations that protect crop prices, a change that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims will allow farmers to set prices themselves. However, farmers and unions claim that the deregulation will allow big companies to drive down prices. The protests represent a major political threat to Modi’s right-wing conservative government, with 250 million people across the subcontinent striking in solidarity with farmers in November.

Last week, a protestor was killed when police turned on farmers who entered Delhi in a tractor rally which turned violent. Police and drones have been deployed to the sites of protests in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, including roads leading into the capital. 

The Student Council’s emergency motion argues that Modi’s government has pursued an “increasingly authoritarian path”, adding that police have shut off access to food, water and the Internet and used tear gas, riot gear, live rounds and powers of arbitrary arrest in order to clamp down on protests since January.

The motion states that the SU will continue to “monitor the situation and issue further statements should there be further state or police violence against protestors in the future”.

Harveen Brar, who proposed the emergency motion, told The Blue:

Students at Oxford have already held a protest in favour of Indian farmers, and this motion was an attempt to recognize the welfare of the Indian community at Oxford in light of the increasing police violence over the last few weeks of this months-long standoff between farmers and the government of India. 

The lack of respect that the Indian state has displayed for protesters the age of our parents and grandparents is despicable, but not surprising: it is yet another example in a long list of the BJP government’s dismantling of democracy in India over the past few years. 

To have the SU President publicise a statement condemning police violence and supporting the rights of farmers is not just symbolic support for the freedom of Indian workers, activists, journalists, and intellectuals – all of whom have been victims of the indiscriminate application of anti-terrorism laws upon people deemed ‘political problems’ for Narendra Modi. 

The motion serves not only to raise more awareness of protests that have seen disappointingly little coverage in the media, but also as a sign of the values that Oxford admires, the beliefs for which we stand: democracy and freedom.

In December, over 60 Oxford students attended a socially-distanced protest in University Parks in solidarity with Indian farmers and protestors. Placards at the event included ones that read “repeal anti-farmer laws” and “they came for Kashmiris, Dalits, women and now farmers: who’s next?”.

Oxford SU has also been contacted for comment.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons