Rihanna creates flutter in India with tweet on farmer protests

Singer tweets solidarity with months-long protests against farm laws, as New Delhi slams international celebrities for ‘inaccurate’ comments.

Rihanna poses backstage with her President's Award at the 51st NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena, California in February, 2020 [File: Danny Moloshok/Reuters]

Pop superstar Rihanna has created a flutter in India by wading into the months-long protests by Indian farmers against new farm laws passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has slammed international celebrities for their “inaccurate” comments.

Tens of thousands of young and old farmers have blocked roads leading into New Delhi for more than two months, sheltering in tractors from the cold, to demand the repeal of three laws passed in September last year, which farmers say will destroy their livelihoods by bringing India’s vast agricultural sector under corporate control.

A tractor rally by farmers last week in New Delhi turned violent, killing one and wounding hundreds, including police officers.

Police responded by shutting down the internet, digging ditches, driving nails into roads and topping barricades with razor wire to prevent farmers from entering the capital again.

“Why aren’t we talking about this?!” Rihanna said in a Twitter post, sharing a CNN network’s article on the demonstrations with her 100.9 million followers on the platform, using the hashtag #FarmersProtest.

It was not immediately clear what led Rihanna, whose songs have done well in India, to suddenly tweet on the subject.

A couple of hours after Rihanna’s tweet, Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg also posted the same CNN article, expressing solidarity with India’s protesting farmers.

“We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India,” Thunberg tweeted to her 4.6 million followers.

Human Rights Watch also tweeted Rihanna, saying the government of Prime Minister Modi is “presiding over a dangerous regression in free speech rights in pursuit of its Hindu nationalist agenda”.

“Increasingly in Modi’s India, independent institutions including investigators, prosecutors, and the courts, which should be impartially defending rights, are instead protecting government supporters and targeting its critics,” the rights group said in a statement on Tuesday.

Also to tweet her solidarity with the protesting Indian farmers was American lawyer and author Meena Harris, who is also the niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris.

“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,” the 36-year-old tweeted, with a photo of women protesters.

India on Wednesday criticised the international celebrities for making comments in support of protesting farmers as inaccurate and irresponsible and said vested interest groups were trying to build opinion against the country.

“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,” the Indian foreign ministry said.

“The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.”

As Rihanna trended on Twitter in India, a Mumbai-based actress who backs India’s ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also lashed out at the famous singer.

“No one is talking about it because they are not farmers, they are terrorists who are trying to divide India …” Kangana Ranaut told her three million followers on the same platform.

The months-long protests are led by turban-wearing Sikh farmers from the wheat and rice-growing state of Punjab in India’s north.

The close-knit community, which is spread around the world, has also organised protests in Australia, Britain and the US.

Sikh Coalition, a New York-based rights group, thanked Rihanna for casting more international spotlight on the subject.

“For over a week, the Indian government has been suspending internet services around #FarmersProtest sites in a clear affront to the freedom of speech,” it said on Twitter.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies