Eleven British South Asian-led fan groups from English football have put club rivalries aside to stand in unity with Indian farmers.
On Thursday morning, the fan groups unveiled a virtual banner in support of the Indian farmers who have been protesting in the country for months, calling for agriculture laws passed in September to be repealed.
The government has offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months, but farmers say they will not end their protests for anything less than full repeal, insisting the reforms favour large corporations and could devastate their earnings.
Six Punjabi-named fan groups representing Liverpool, Leeds, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Wolves and Derby County were featured on the banner.
Supporters’ clubs from West Ham, Newport County and West Brom were also included.
Most of the groups are supported by the Fans for Diversity campaign, a jointly-funded initiative led by the Football Supporters’ Association and Kick It Out.
One of the groups, the Punjabi Villans, has already raised in excess of £10,000 for the UK-based Midland Langar Seva Society, who have a team of volunteers that flew to India to provide food and medical assistance to the farmers, many of whom are elderly.
The supporters’ clubs are keen to use their platforms to raise awareness and are understood to have been inspired by the likes of Marcus Rashford and British-Indian footballer Yan Dhanda, who have spoken up about injustice on social media.
Pop star Rihanna publicly declared her support for the farmers this week.
Rihanna – who has 101m followers on Twitter – shared an article about the protests on the social media site, with the message: “Why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest”.
Her post took the farmers’ fight global and has already generated well over a million likes and retweets combined.
The international organisation Human Rights Watch has also been highlighting the farmers’ plight.
In response to criticism, India’s external affairs ministry said the new legislation has followed full debate and discussion.
It also put out a statement that appeared to refer directly to Rihanna’s tweet, saying: “The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.”
Western support for the farmers has drawn anger from leaders and pro-government activists. Leading political figures, Indian celebrities and even the foreign ministry have urged people to come together and denounce outsider interference.
“It is unfortunate to see vested interest groups trying to enforce their agenda on these protests, and derail them,” India’s foreign ministry said, in a rare statement criticising “foreign individuals” posting on social media.
Some of India’s most high-profile current and former cricketers have also made their feelings known on social media including skipper Virat Kohli and former players Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble.
India batsmen Ajinkya Rahane added on Twitter: “There’s no issue that cannot be resolved if we stand together as one. Let’s remain united and work towards resolving our internal issues #IndiaTogether.”
India has always been stronger when we all stand together and finding a solution is the need of the hour. Our farmers play an important role in our nation’s well being and I am sure everyone will play their roles to find a solution TOGETHER. #IndiaTogether 🇮🇳
— Rohit Sharma (@ImRo45) February 3, 2021
Leading lights in US sport have also had their say, with NBA champion and Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma earlier sharing a tweet, drawing attention to the farmers’ plight.
NFL wide receiver, Juju Smith-Schuster, who is set to become a free agent having spent the last four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has also made a donation to provide medical assistance to the farmers.
He wrote on Twitter: “Happy to share that I’ve donated $10,000 to provide medical assistance to the farmers in need in India to help save lives during these times. I hope we can prevent any additional life from being lost.”
Clashes between the protesters and government forces last week left one protester dead and nearly 400 police officers injured.
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