Within hours of Rihanna’s tweet linking to a CNN story on the issue and questioning why people weren’t talking about the protests, the ministry of external affairs released a statement criticizing “celebrities and others” for their “neither accurate nor responsible” comments. In support of the Indian government, some Bollywood celebrities tweeted against “propaganda” that threatened India’s unity and body-shamed Rihanna.
The worst of it comes from Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, a vocal supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu-nationalist group one could say is equivalent to the Proud Boys. In a series of tweets, Ranaut not only criticized Rihanna’s work, but her appearance and even her skin color. Honestly, Ranaut’s disgusting behavior should have gotten her removed from Twitter.
“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,” Anurag Srivastava, a spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said in a statement on Wednesday. “The temptation of the sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.”
But the negative and false narratives right-wing conservatives spread in India, including calling Rihanna a “porn star,” did not stop her tweet from going viral and spreading awareness of the farmers’ protests. Both Western celebrities and athletes followed suit in sharing that this issue should not only be spoken about but supported. Wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers Juju Smith-Schuster even donated $10,000 to provide medical assistance to farmers in need, many of whom have been protesting outside despite deadly cold temperatures.
Rihanna was also supported by Thunberg, who tweeted that she stood “in solidarity with the #FarmersProtests in India,” and that “no amount of hate threats or violations of human rights will ever change that.” Thunberg even shared a link to register objections to the new laws and a toolkit, in response to which Delhi police said they were investigating whether there was an international campaign to damage India’s reputation. The toolkit, Thunburg said, was to “enable anyone unfamiliar with the ongoing farmers protests in India to better understand the situation and make decisions on how to support the farmers based on their own analysis.”
In response to the support Rihanna and Thunberg created online for the farmers protesting, India’s government and alt-right officials resorted to violence, as they have done in the past. Indian government officials not only burned photos of Rihanna and Thunberg, but issued arrest warrants for them on the basis that they were inciting terrorism. Tweets shaming the two from Bollywood celebrities quickly gained attention, and headlines in local Indian newspapers highlighted the two by saying they were inciting propaganda and trying to negatively impact India.
Rihanna’s tweet couldn’t have come at a worse time for India’s government. In the last few weeks, global attention towards the farmers’ movement has resulted in criticism towards India’s handling of the protests by both the United Kingdom and Canadian officials. Additionally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly been criticized for his support of Donald Trump and similar tactics of encouraging violence at peaceful demonstrations. According to NBC News, as farmers are not only a key part of India’s economy but one of the most influential voting blocs in India, Modi faces challenges in any upcoming elections.
Rihanna’s tweet has resulted in the issue becoming a topic of conversation in the U.S. and more awareness being created. Advocates have consistently urged that action to be taken to no avail. hile it is sad that it took a Western celebrity tweeting about the issue for it to garner more attention, it is also laudable that Rihanna took the time to do so. It sheds light on the fact that injustice cannot go unremarked upon.
It also gives activists hope that change can come and that there is support at all levels. While multiple Indian celebrities have been silencing the issue and calling the protests terrorism for their own comfort, Western celebrities raising their voices puts pressure on Indian officials to take action because of the global attention.
As of this report, an injunction issued by India’s Supreme Court has temporarily paused implementation of the new laws, but farmers stand strong in demanding total appeal.
“The government treats us like thieves but we are fighting for our rights,” Harbachan Singh, a farmer from Punjab who is managing a community kitchen at the Singhu border, told The Guardian. To learn more about the bills in question, check out this quick explainer on why the protested laws are not just an Indian issue but a global issue.