AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER
ONE tweet by Barbados-native singer Rihanna supporting the massive farmer protests occurring in India has angered supporters of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and the Indian government.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting in India’s capital of New Delhi against new agricultural laws that the farmers say would leave them poorer and at the mercy of large corporations.
The protests are challenging Modi’s billed laws that the Prime Minister saw as a measure to modernise farming across the nation.
The protests started out peaceful until they turned violent on January 26, when a section of farmers riding tractors veered from an agreed protest route with police and stormed the 17th century Red Fort.
Hundreds of police officers and farmers were injured but police had not released specific figures on the injured farmers.
Although they condemned the violence that occurred on January 26, farmer leaders said that they would not call off the protest.
News of the violent escalation reached social media with activists calling for worldwide backlash towards the Indian government and police.
High profile figures such as Greta Thunberg, Meena Harris (the niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris, whose mother was born in India) and Rihanna chimed in on Twitter, voicing their support for the farmers and calling out the government, which resulted in a larger number of online voices pressuring the government.
Rihanna tweeted: “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” with a link to a CNN news report about India blocking internet services at protest sites, a tactic that is known to be used by the Modi ruling government.
Thunberg wrote: “We stand in solidarity with #FarmersProtest in India.”
After the singer’s tweet went viral, a number of international human rights groups widely condemned the protests and internet blackout, while supporters of Modi along with the government accused celebrities and other big profiles condemning the protests on Twitter of “sensationalism” with mentioning names.
In response to the tweets by Rihanna and other celebrities, many Twitter users reported that the Indian government had made attempts to gag users on the social media platforms while criticising the involvement of “foreign individuals”.
India’s foreign minister wrote on Wednesday: “The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible”
“It is unfortunate to see vested interest groups trying to enforce their agenda on these protests, and derail them.”
Other supporters of Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party including former legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar criticised Rihanna and others for their meddling in the mass farmer protests.
The criticisms came after many called out Bollywood entertainers and athletes for staying silent throughout the entire protests, prompting some of them like Tendulkar to share their support for the Indian government on Twitter including hashtags such as #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda.
“India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants”, Tendulkar wrote.
Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, a supporter of Modi’s party, called the farmers “terrorists” and Rihanna a “fool” for involving themselves in the protests.
“No one is talking about it because they are not farmers, they are terrorists who are trying to divide India”, Ranaut tweeted.
The Indian government later threatened Twitter with “penal action” for unlocking 250 accounts and tweets on the mass protests that the US social platform had previously blocked. Twitter took initial action following the notice, but later reversed course after a few hours.