Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and other celebrities set social media ablaze after tweeting in solidarity with Indian farmers and calling out the Indian government.
India’s farmers’ protest movement has reached millions around the world after a host of prominent celebrities, activists and politicians took to Twitter to express their support for the protests.
Popular singer Rihanna, who has over 100 million followers, shared a CNN news article headlined, “India cuts internet around New Delhi as protesting farmers clash with police.”
“Why aren’t we talking about this? #FarmersProtests,” she wrote.
Protests have rocked India’s Hindu nationalist-run BJP government, following a series of controversial farm bills passed last September, which led to widespread protests by thousands of farmers who see their livelihoods under threat and the reforms opening the floodgates to corporate capture of India’s agricultural sector.
International attention has come at a time when sites of protests in Delhi have turned it into a fortress, with police barricading and fencing up the capital to prohibit the movement of vehicles. The Internet has been suspended, protestors smeared in the media, and police cases filed against journalists who critically reported on the government's response to the protests.
Shortly after Rihanna's post, teenage climate activist Thunberg also shared the same CNN article, explicitly stating her solidarity with the farmers movement.
Bollywood actors Richa Chadha and Swara Bhasker lauded Rihanna’s tweet. Along with Chadha and Bhasker, only a few Bollywood names like Sonu Sood, Divya Dutta, Neha Sharma and filmmaker Hansal Mehta have vocally supported the protests.
Many of the film industry’s big stars have remained on the fence or completely silent. Last year, Punjabi actor and singer Gippy Grewal called out the industry for not standing up for farmers.
Actor Kangana Ranuat, who has aligned herself with the BJP and is a frequent lightning rod on political and cultural issues in the country, criticised Rihanna’s tweet and labelled protesting farmers as “terrorists''.
Her tweet was later deleted.
US vice president Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris also weighed in, saying that everyone should be “outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protestors”. She added that “as we speak, the most populous democracy is under assault”.
It’s no coincidence that the world’s oldest democracy was attacked not even a month ago, and as we speak, the most populous democracy is under assault. This is related. We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters. https://t.co/yIvCWYQDD1 pic.twitter.com/DxWWhkemxW— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) February 2, 2021
US actor John Cusack, known for his progressive political positions, also expressed his support.
Other popular online personalities like YouTuber Lilly Singh and author Rupi Kaur, who are both of Punjabi origin, either shared Rihanna's tweet or thanked the singer.
Social media influencer and entrepreneur Amanda Cerny took to Instagram to chime in on the issue: “The world is watching. You don’t have to be Indian and Punjabi or South Asian to understand the issue. All you have to do is care about humanity.”
Meanwhile, Punjabi actor and singer Diljit Dosanjh dropped a single honouring Rihanna:
Organisations like Human Rights Watch took the chance to retweet Rihanna and reiterate their request to release activists and journalists either jailed or facing criminal charges related to the protests.
“Indian authorities should be releasing activists and others already jailed or facing criminal charges in politically motivated cases, not adding to that list" ~ @mg2411 https://t.co/OyiTBUjNz2 #FarmersProtest https://t.co/4hRqEISrML— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) February 2, 2021
The result: #FarmerProtests were trending across different countries.
Gulf News opinion editor Sadiq Bhat summed it up best:
With both being public-facing women, Rihanna and Thunberg's tweets solicited a slew of misogynistic and racist replies from staunch BJP supporters, referred to as “bhakts” by their critics, who are infamous for swarming accounts and subjecting them to vicious trolling sprees.
In response to Rihanna’s tweet, ‘Chris Brown’ began trending in India. Brown infamously assaulted Rihanna in 2009 and many Twitter users went on to justify the domestic violence case.
'Chris Brown' continues to trend on Twitter India hours after Rihanna tweeted in support of India's #FarmersProtest, as pro Modi, BJP supporters troll Rihanna, glorify her assault, flood her mentions with tweets justifying assault on her pic.twitter.com/LJRPLM3oQ1— Hindutva Watch (@Hindutva__watch) February 2, 2021
As international personalities continued to come forward in support of the protests, India’s Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement on Wednesday warning against the “temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments” against the new farm laws.
“We would like to emphasise that these protests must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, and the efforts of the Government and the concerned farmer groups to resolve the impasse,” the statement added. “Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken.”