Yorkshire MP says it should not have taken Rihanna to highlight plight of India's farmers

A Yorkshire MP has slammed how it took a pop superstar tweeting about the plight of farmers in India for the world to start paying attention.

Tens of thousands of Indian farmers have been protesting around Delhi for several months over new laws which they say will remove a minimum price for their goods, in favour of big corporations.

The farmers, who are living in makeshift campsites, say they will remain in place until the laws are repealed.

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And clashes between protestors and Government forces have at times turned violent, with authorities switching off the internet in some areas and blocking the Twitter accounts of activists.

Bradford West MP Naz Shah. Photo: UK Parliament

After the cause was picked up by a number of celebrities after singer Rihanna tweeted a news article asking why the subject was not being discussed, prompting India's external affairs ministry to issue a statement which read: “The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible."

In a debate in Parliament on Monday, Bradford West MP Naz Shah said: “That in some ways explains how the world now works. The powerful are heard with a single tweet, while the average person’s voice is often ignored. That is one of the central arguments that the Indian farmers are making.”

Ms Shah said the issue was a “very serious concern” for constituents, who she said often had family in India struggling.

“It is not being anti-Indian,“ she said. “India is the fifth largest economy in the world. It is ranked second in the world in agricultural production and ninth in the world for agricultural exports. India has a rich history and culture, and is a rising economic power. However, with such increases in economic opportunity comes responsibility. It is important that we support the average farmer, especially when they are faced with large and powerful corporations.”

She added: “This is not a debate between two equals. These farmers are already struggling. More than 52 per cent of India’s farmers are living in debt, which is causing a shocking increase in the suicide rate. In 2019 alone, nearly 10,300 Indian farmers killed themselves. Such an alarming situation cannot be ignored.”

She said: “In addition, because the protests have been dominated by Sikh protesters from Punjab, the Government have tried to silence their voices by marginalising the issue to one that affects a single community. The current Indian Government’s record on minority rights is not one to be proud of. I urge them to consider the issues of globalisation and capitalism in a serious way, and to avoid making this situation another case of nationalism and marginalising yet another minority community in India.”

But Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said the changes were necessary to modernise farming.