The Sikh Coalition and the North American Sikh Medical and Dental Association (NASMDA) sent the below letter to the State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and various international human rights organizations on March 4, 2024, regarding urgent concerns about attacks on medical workers trying to provide emergency care during the Farmers’ Protest in India.

To Whom It May Concern:

We write to express our serious concern for the welfare and safety of Dr. Swaiman Singh, a U.S.-based cardiologist, and his team of medical care providers on the ground in India. Their organization, 5 Rivers Heart Association, has been the subject of repeated attacks and related harassment in the course of their work to provide free healthcare to farmers currently engaged in peaceful protests against the government of India.

In December of 2020, Dr. Singh traveled to India with the intention of setting up a clinic in Delhi to provide temporary emergency aid to protesters. When he arrived, however, he made the decision to stay—and to scale his response, as a function of urgent need: protesting farmers were dying due to cardiac arrest, exposure, infectious disease, and more. Dr. Singh ultimately stayed in India for a full year, establishing not just clinics but also makeshift ambulances and community centers for protesting farmers as well as community locals, including officers, who needed care. During that time, he alleged that he and his team were attacked by individuals in police uniforms.

As a new iteration of farmers protests began in the past several weeks, Dr. Singh’s associates in India have faced much more overt attacks and harassment. Despite Dr. Singh’s team and their ambulances being clearly marked as healthcare providers, uniformed men in the state of Haryana have fired tear gas at them, assaulted them with batons, and burned or otherwise destroyed their vehicles, medicine, and other supplies. In speaking out about these issues, Dr. Singh himself has faced online threats from anonymous individuals and censorship from the social media company X via takedown requests from the Indian government—an increasingly common practice, specifically in reference to India’s draconian response to peaceful protests.

The right to free assembly, expression, and health are all universally recognized as basic democratic principles, and the targeting of medical and emergency workers violates the most fundamental democratic and international norms. It is egregious that a nation’s domestic law enforcement would be employed to conduct targeted attacks against its own people—people like Dr. Singh’s team, who are on the front lines of the protest simply to help those in need.

Dr. Singh’s allegations of misconduct by Indian authorities cannot be viewed in a vacuum. The Indian government’s undemocratic response to the first farmers’ protest in 2020 and 2021 became the subject of condemnation by human rights defenders around the globe, on account of the use of tear gas, water cannons, and excessive force; the arrest of journalists and activists; attempts to restrict the free flow of information in the press and online; and other forms of repression. Now, in just a few short weeks of the new iteration of protests, India has already relied on several of these same tactics, with reports of razor wire and cement barricades to block protestors, drones dispensing tear gas, and internet shutdowns once again. Even more alarming are more recent allegations that farmers have already been killed and injured by police fire.

This conduct is unbecoming of a democracy and runs counter to our shared understanding of human rights and basic dignity—and none of it is more clearly abhorrent to international norms than the targeting and attacking of healthcare providers. Accordingly, our organizations urge you to join us in speaking out about this unacceptable behavior and shining a light on India’s practices to better protect both Dr. Singh’s team and the patients to whom they selflessly provide needed care.

Respectfully,

The Sikh Coalition
The North American Sikh Medical and Dental Association