By Abdul Mussawer Safi
The human rights situation in Punjab, India, has alarmed the world community, particularly the Sikh diaspora and the U.S. Congress. The U.S. Congress Committee on Appropriations issued a report titled “State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill 2024,” which voiced concern over recent unrest and limits on civil freedoms in the Indian state of Punjab. According to the research, the U.S. should actively monitor the situation and give appropriate aid to India’s oppressed religious minority.
The recent violence and limitations on civil freedoms in Punjab were sparked by farmers’ protests against the Indian government’s planned new agricultural legislation for 2020. Farmers, most of whom were Sikhs, contended that the laws would benefit major businesses while harming their livelihoods. They also urged that the rules be repealed and that minimum support prices for their crops be legally guaranteed. The protests turned violent on multiple occasions, resulting in conflicts between police and demonstrators, injuries and fatalities among civilians and security personnel, and the destruction of public and private property.
Journalists, activists, and social media executives who spoke out against the government’s actions or showed sympathy for the protestors were targeted for detention, censorship, and intimidation. The article states, “Previously, The Indian government has recently taken legal action against numerous journalists who filmed incidents of police violence during the Farmers’ Protests. Notably, workers in India on significant internet platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter feared fines and jail if they did not quickly filter and delete information that questioned the government’s handling of these demonstrations. The country’s performance on civil, political, and human rights indices has drawn notice, with studies referencing reputable groups such as Freedom House, Amnesty International, the World Justice Project, and Human Rights Watch. These sources all point to India’s low performance in these areas.
Within India, the condition of religious minorities, particularly Sikhs, who have faced discrimination, violence, and even genocide, is of particular concern. The report emphasizes the need for improved support for these vulnerable populations, particularly those the Secretary of State identified as victims of genocide and crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. The study also investigates the terrible anti-Sikh riots of 1984 that followed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s death, advocating for justice for the victims of these crimes.
The bill portrays the pro-Khalistan movement, which wants a separate homeland for Sikhs in the Punjab area, as an endeavor headed by Sikhs overseas to create Khalistan as an independent state. The Indian government accuses Canada of allowing extremist activities that endanger India’s sovereignty. The article describes the incarceration of Khalistan Referendum supporters under India’s sedition laws and many searches on Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) supporters before the government’s crackdown on Amritpal Singh and his supporters.
In response to impending demonstrations, the report asks the U.S. to carefully monitor the human rights situation in Punjab and fight for democratic values and human rights. It underlines the need to assist vulnerable religious minorities via various assistance mechanisms, such as the Complex Crises Fund and foreign aid programs. The study advises civil society groups in India to support human rights, democracy, and the rule of law by leveraging resources such as the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
The Committee’s support for deeper U.S.-India connections is reinforced in this report, which highlights the importance of strengthening India’s strength and security to advance U.S. interests in the region and throughout the world. This support originates from the strategic significance of this alliance and the inherent congruence of democratic principles held by the two states. This study digs into the human rights issue in Punjab, India, so we may better understand where Congress stands on this contentious issue. It also shows Congress’s willingness to protect and aid vulnerable religious groups in India, predominantly the Sikh minority.
This highlights the importance of the relationship between the United States and India and stresses the need for joint action to solve typical problems. However, the research highlights several complexities and concerns that both countries must carefully evaluate. Among them are addressing the repercussions of the pro-Khalistan movement on regional stability, resolving economic disputes and divergences, and striking a delicate balance between protecting human rights and fulfilling national security imperatives. The study’s findings provide valuable insights into the implications of the current human rights situation in Punjab, India, for the more significant relationship between the United States and India.
Abdul Mussawer Safi is a student of International Relations at the National Defense University Islamabad. He has worked with various think tanks and has written and researched the regional dynamics of South Asia. He has also highlighted many humanitarian issues in different outlets. He is interested in exploring the challenges and opportunities for peace and development in the region.
Please visit our website London Institute of Peace Research for latest peace news