New Delhi: 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 but the government said the intervention was irresponsible.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi since late last year, braving the winter chill to oppose three new laws that they say will benefit big business at their expense.
The centre says the reforms will help farmers and make their sector more efficient.
The largely peaceful campaign turned violent last week when protesters drove a procession of tractors into the heart of the capital and some farmers 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," US 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.
India reacted sharply on Wednesday to comments by the foreign celebrities and others, saying a very small section of farmers in parts of the country had some reservations about the farm reforms and a proper understanding of the issue was needed before rushing to comment on the agitation.
"The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible," the Ministry of External Affairs said in a curt statement.
Nine-year-old climate activist Licypriya Kangujam had asked Thunberg to support the protest, saying farmers were already battling the climate crisis.
"Hi @GretaThunberg! Please extend support to the voice of millions of Indian farmers. This is the world''s biggest historic protest for their rights," Kanjugam, who is also called "India''s Greta Thunberg", tweeted.
Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist, has also come out in support of the farmers.
"Let us talk about what is happening in India right now #FarmersProtest," Nakate tweeted, tagging Kangujam.
In another tweet, Kangujam had said: "Dear friends, Our millions of poor farmers sleeping in the streets in this cold weather don't expect anything from you. Just your one tweet of love and support /solidarity to their cause means a lots to them. Our Indian celebrities get lost.
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 laws. The government has offered some concessions but has ruled out abandoning the reforms.
(With inputs from Reuters and PTI)