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    US urges India to ‘negotiate’ with protesting farmers

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    The US State Department says that peaceful protest and access without the Internet is ‘the hallmark of any thriving democracy’.

    The United States has urged the Indian government to resolve its differences with farmers about agricultural laws through negotiations, saying that peaceful protests and no access to the Internet are “hallmarks of any thriving democracy”.

    Tens of thousands of peasants have been demanding to repeal their laws in the capital of India, leaving them at the mercy of the poor and corporations.

    The protests that began in late November pose a major challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has implemented the necessary laws to modernize Indian farming.

    Large-scale peaceful protests turned violent on India’s Republic Day on 26 January, when a section of thousands of farmers riding tractors decided to police during the first protests and dramatically increased the historic Red Fort.

    Hundreds of police officers were injured and one of the guards was killed. Dozens of farmers were also injured but the authorities did not provide their numbers.

    Farmer leaders condemned the violence, but said they would not call for protest.

    People are standing near the police barricade along a blocked highway on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border in Ghaziabad. [Prakash Singh/AFP]

    Since then, authorities have increased security at a large number of protest sites outside New Delhi’s border, including iron spikes and steel barricades to prevent protesters from entering the capital.

    The government also restricted access to mobile internet at protest sites.

    “We believe that blocking access to information, including the Internet, is fundamental to freedom of expression and is a hallmark of thriving democracy,” a US media department spokesman said Wednesday, according to Indian media reports.

    “In general, the United States welcomes steps that will improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract private sector investment,” the spokesperson said.

    “We believe that peaceful protest is the hallmark of any thriving democracy and note that the Supreme Court of India has said the same.”

    This tweet by pop star Rihanna made the Indian government angry [File: Danny Moloshok/Reuters]

    Earlier this week, a tweet by pop superstar Rihanna made a global headline over Indian peasant protests, which angered the Indian government, which was forced to issue a rare statement.

    “Why aren’t we talking about this ?!” Rihanna tweeted to more than 101 million of her Twitter followers, referring to internet outages at protest sites.

    Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris, the niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris, also tweeted in support of her and followed a social media storm.

    In New Delhi, protest workers participate in marches organized in support of farmers, as protestors participate [Money Sharma/AFP]

    Soon, senior ministers, celebrities and even the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India urged people to come together and denounce outsiders who tried to break up the country.

    Without naming Rihanna and others, the Ministry of External Affairs said that it is unfortunate to try to derail its agenda on these protests and derail them.

    The ministry’s statement accuses “foreign individuals” and “sensational” celebrities.

    Bollywood’s entertainment and sports stars, many of whom have long been silent on farmer protests and are known to toe the government’s line, tweeted in a tone.

    He echoed the government’s stance on agricultural laws, using the hashtags #IndiaAgainstPropaganda and #IndiaT Total and asked people outside India to ignore the affairs of their country.

    Shashi Tharoor of the main opposition Congress Party said that the damage done to the global image of India by the government’s ‘undemocratic behavior’ could not be due to the tweets of celebrities.

    Tharoor said in a tweet, “Indian celebrities are embarrassing to react to Westerners.”

    Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram took a swipe at India’s foreign ministry and called his statement a “brilliant response”.

    “When will you realize that people related to human rights and livelihood issues do not recognize national boundaries?” Chidambaram tweeted.

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