Counter-protesters in Delhi have burned effigies of the Swedish environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg after she tweeted support for India's protesting farmers in posts that have prompted an investigation by Indian police.
Crowds gathered in Delhi to protest against several international celebrities including Ms Thunberg and the pop singer Rihanna, who inflamed sentiments in India and angered the government after tweeting about the continuing farmer protests this week. Photos of Ms Thunberg and Rihanna were set alight and banners were held aloft warning that "international interference" in Indian affairs would not be tolerated.
Since November, hundreds of thousands of farmers have been camped out around Delhi demanding several new agriculture laws are repealed. After a march last week turned violent, with hundreds storming the capital’s historic Red Fort, Delhi police had been cracking down on the farmers by sending in riot officers and paramilitary troops, cutting off entry and exit to the protest sites and blocking mobile internet access.
Ms Thunberg became embroiled in allegations of an international criminal conspiracy against India after she tweeted a “toolkit” for people who wanted to show support for the farmers. The document included campaigning tips such as suggested hashtags and advice on how to sign petitions.
Though not named in the police case that was filed, Ms Thunberg’s tweet was said to have brought the Delhi police’s attention to the existence of the toolkit. Leaders in the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) said the toolkit was “evidence of international plans for attacks against India”.
In response to reports that a case had been filed against Ms Thunberg, Praveer Ranjan, the special commissioner of police for Delhi, said: “‘We haven’t named anybody in the FIR [first information report], it’s only against the creators of the toolkit which is a matter of investigation and Delhi police will be investigating that case.”
On Wednesday Ms Thunberg had tweeted: “We stand in solidarity with farmers protests in India,” and linked to a news article on heavy-handed measures being used against the protesting farmers.
Earlier Rihanna had tweeted an article on the crackdown against the farmers, writing: “Why aren’t we talking about this?!”
The Indian government released a statement in response sharply warning against celebrities tweeting “sensationalist social media hashtags and comments”.
On Thursday, soon after news of the police investigation emerged, Ms Thunberg reaffirmed her position. “I still #StandWithFarmers and support their peaceful protest,” she tweeted to her 4.7 million followers. “No amount of hate, threats or violations of human rights will ever change that. #FarmersProtest.”
The farmers’ protests have become a highly inflammatory issue in India, with little resolution in sight. Nine rounds of talks between the government and farmers have failed, and the supreme court recently suspended the implementation of the laws.
Farmers have said they will not stand down their protests until the government agrees to repeal a series of laws that were passed last year.
The government has said the laws will allow for more private investment into the archaic farming sector and drive modernisation. Farmers say the changes, which will allow large retailers to buy directly from growers, will mean the end of longstanding guaranteed prices for their crops and leave them at the mercy of big business.
Media access to the protest sites has been largely cut off. A journalist was arrested for entering one of the sites over the weekend, and nine Indian journalists are facing charges including sedition and conspiracy over social media posts relating to the protests. – Guardian