Indian police file criminal case, post-celebrity tweets on farmer protests

Police in India Thursday filed a criminal case against what it claimed “an overseas conspiracy” to defame the country in the wake of recent tweets by global celebrities like pop star Rihanna and teen climate activist Greta Thunberg in support of the protests around the national capital by farmers against three controversial farm laws.

Millions of farmers have been camping on the outskirts of the Indian capital since November last year, calling for an immediate repeal of the three controversial farm laws that they fear will hurt their livelihoods. The Indian government has reportedly shut down the internet in areas around the protest sites.

“We have lodged an FIR against the creators of a ‘toolkit’ (shared by Thunberg to support the farmers’ protests) that has been uploaded on social media sites, aiming to spread disaffection against the Indian government. However, no one has been named in the FIR. The cyber cell will probe the case,” a Delhi Police spokesperson told the media.

Earlier in the day, the teen climate campaigner took to Twitter to say that she “still” stood with protesting farmers. “No amount of hate, threats or violations of human rights will ever change that. #FarmersProtest.” She also shared a “toolkit” — that has been cited in the FIR by Delhi Police — advising people on how to show support for the protests.

The 18-year-old’s first tweet came on Tuesday night, soon after Rihanna commented on the farmer protests in India. “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India,” Thunberg had tweeted. The climate activist has over 4.6 million followers.

Earlier that day, in a tweet to her 100 million followers, Rihanna wrote: “Why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest”, sharing a link to a news story by CNN. Her comment was retweeted 230,000 times. Several international figures were among those who had retweeted the pop star’s comments.

Bollywood support to Indian govt

On Wednesday, several Bollywood celebrities — from superstars Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn to filmmakers Ekta Kapoor and Karan Johar — joined the Indian government in flaying Rihanna and Thunberg for their tweets in support of the farmer protests.

The reaction first came from the Indian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday afternoon, which said in a statement that that these protests must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, “and the efforts of the government and the concerned farmer groups to resolve the impasse”.

“Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken. The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible,” the Ministry had said.

Soon after the Ministry put out the statement, Akshay Kumar retweeted it, adding, “Farmers constitute an extremely important part of our country. And the efforts being undertaken to resolve their issues are evident. Let’s support an amicable resolution, rather than paying attention to anyone creating differences. #IndiaTogether #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.”

Moments later another action hero, Ajay Devgn echoed similar sentiments. “Don’t fall for any false propaganda against India or Indian policies. It’s important to stand united at this hour w/o any infighting #IndiaTogether #IndiaAgainstPropaganda,” he tweeted.

US on farmer protests

In a related development, the American Embassy in the national capital said that “the US welcomes steps that would improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment”, but made it clear that it considers both “peaceful protests” and the internet the “hallmarks of a thriving democracy”.

“Peaceful protests are a hallmark of any thriving democracy, and note that the Indian Supreme Court has stated the same. We encourage that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue,” the Embassy said in a statement.

On reports of internet blackout around the protests sites on the outskirts of the Indian capital, the US Embassy said: “We recognise that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy.”

Farmers’ take

On January 26, thousands of farmers clashed with police after their tractor rally in Delhi in protest against the three new controversial farm laws turned violent. At least one protester died and more than 300 cops were injured in the violence on that day, which also saw many farmers entering the iconic Red Fort and hoisting their flags.

While the protesters claim the three bills are anti-farmers, the Indian government has said that the reforms will help them get better prices by allowing them to sell their produce at markets and prices of their choice.

1. These are aimed at ending the monopoly of government-regulated markets and allowing

farmers to sell their produce directly to private players

2. The laws also focus on ensuring a legal framework for farmers to enter into written pacts with companies and produce for them

3. Moreover, these would allow agri-businesses to stock food articles and remove the government’s ability to impose restrictions arbitrarily

What experts say

Experts, however, say the fear of farmers stems out of the fact that most of them currently sell their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets at a minimum support price.