Protesting Indian farmers won global attention on Wednesday with prominent Western activists joining pop superstar Rihanna in support of their months-long campaign against agriculture reforms they say will benefit big business at their expense.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped out on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, since late last year, braving the winter chill to show opposition to three new laws the government says will make the sector more efficient.
Their largely peaceful campaign turned violent last week when a farmers’ procession of tractors entered the heart of Delhi and some protesters confronted police, who responded with tear gas and batons.
Police have since heavily barricaded three main protest sites with concertina wire fences and obstructions on roads and shut off the internet in some areas.
“We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters,” U.S. lawyer and activist Meena Harris, the niece of Vice-President Kamala Harris, said on Twitter.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also posted a message of support on Twitter, sharing a news report about the internet shutdowns.
“We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India,” Thunberg wrote.
Hours earlier, singer Rihanna created a flutter in India by posting an article on the demonstrations to her 101 million Twitter followers, also using the #FarmersProtest tag.
Some supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government hit back at the foreign comment.
Actress Kangana Ranaut described the protesting farmers as “terrorists who are trying to divide India”.
“Sit down you fool, we are not selling our nation,” Ranaut said in reply to Rihanna’s post.
The government insists the reforms, which will allow big retailers to buy directly from growers, will benefit farmers and draw investment to a sector that makes up nearly 15% of India’s $2.9 trillion economy and employs about half its 1.3 billion people.
The farmers say the reforms will mean the end of long-standing guaranteed prices for their crops and leave them vulnerable to the whims of big business.
The farmers are demanding the withdrawal of the three laws, introduced in September. The government has offered some concessions but has ruled out abandoning the reforms.