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Rihanna on Farmer’s Protest: A Tweet that Groped International Attention to India’s Prolonged Farmers Protest

Chintu Das
Chintu Das
Rihanna

The government of India has taken severe measures to neutralise the farmer's agitation after the uproar of the "Tractor Rally" on 26 January. There's no power, water and web and just to make it more serious there were concrete barricades, and nails pushed through the roads.

Indian social media is violent, but there was no real momentum until February 2, when Rihanna posted a CNN story on twitter on “Internet was shut off from the protest sites”. Rihanna has 101M followers on Twitter.

"With her 6 word tweet linking to a CNN article, the American pop star began a domino effect: "Why aren't we just talking about this?!

"The world thought about little more after that. The star does have a history of utilizing social media to highlight certain events namely, the Black Lives Matter, the Beirut bombings, the coup in Myanmar, among many others. She is also a renowned humanitarian for many reasons, and was named the 2017 Humanitarian of the Year of Harvard University.

The Indians' response was quick. Many praised the star for taking up the agitation of farmers at a global forum. Others, headed by Kangana Ranaut (3M followers on Twitter), a Hindi film celebrity, were less than respectful. Ranaut had what is now considered a very prominent breakdown when she called Rihanna a "fool" and the farmers "terrorists."

Rihanna wouldn't be the only powerhouse global star that Ranaut embarked on. For her share of pushback, millennial environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg (4.8M followers on Twitter) came in. Owing to her outspoken interventions to world leaders to combat climate change, Thunberg has developed many critics. With the former US president, Donald Trump, the most prominent feud was, while some other politicians shared their frustration at her tenaciousness. While Thunberg's social causes have always been highlighted, this appears to be the first instance she has been weighed in on anything not specifically linked to climate change.

Stuff got worse when Thunberg shared a "toolkit" for protestors. That's when politics shifted into real life and off from keyboards. Thunberg and other foreign backers of the farmers' protest were burned by the United Hindu Front, which considers itself a religious group and the 'Community of All Hindu Organization'.

Meena Harris (608K twitter followers), identified in India as the niece of the current Vice President of the US, Kamala Harris, was among those whose effigies were burnt. A few weeks ago, Harris compared the repression by the Indian government with the Capitol riots. Mia Khalifa, another United Hindu Front target, was (3.5M followers on Twitter). Personality in social media, presenter of sports show, model, adult movie star... Khalifa wears various caps. She spoke out fiercely for Lebanon, and collected hundreds of dollars for the Beirut Red Cross as well as other local charities. So her backing up for the protest shouldn't come as a huge surprise.

There have been other foreign celebrities joining in. Here's Amanda Cerny, the American model and social media star with an Instagram audience of more than 25 million.

A few days later, tweeter was introduced to the heated debate by Susan Sarandon (691K followers on Twitter). Sarandon's support for the farmers' strike, known perhaps as much for her social and political advocacy as for the movies in which she starred, is only unexpected because it's later than rest.

A British singer with Indian origin, Jay Sean (1.2M Twitter followers ), also shared his encouragement for the farmers. Sean strongly encourages charitable causes and has helped raise funds for charity, but his contribution is more likely to be a reference to his heritage, as Punjabis are his parents.

Meanwhile, the government has evidently been pressured by all this. Indian stars stormed in within the next few hours to support the hashtags accepted by the MEA. Driven by the Indian movie star, Akshay Kumar (40.5M Twitter followers), they were obviously pursuing the same playbook. Kumar, whose support for the government and for Prime Minister Narendra Modi was very vocal. Though Kumar was seen to be a vocal supporter of government welfare projects, some who were not so visible in the Hindi film fraternity joined his lead in supporting the MEA thread.

Not every one of Bollywood, however, clipped the thread. In favour of Rihanna and Thunberg, a few of them came forward. There was Taapsee Pannu (4.5M followers in Twitter), who with her tweet got on the wrong side of Ranaut, and was subjected to a sequence of shrieking replies.

The movement was joined by sportsmen, with stars such as Sachin Tendulkar (35M Twitter followers) and Virat Kohli (40.4M followers) endorsing the MEA comment. Both cricketers have a tradition of endorsing public benefit projects, which have collected money for disaster relief funds, schooling, and healthcare programmes. It should not have come as a surprise, considering their history, that both spoke out against "international interference" in what the state terms an internal affair.

Members of parliament from Britain were still present, calling for action by the British government. Here is Valerie Vaz, the British MP of Indian descent representing Walsall South. On behalf of her constituents, many of whom have families in Punjab, she wrote to the Foreign Minister, Dominic Raab. In the meantime, a declaration was released by the US State Department urging the Indian government to consider a consultation with farmers rather than cutting off Internet connectivity.

The confrontation will not happen anytime soon, particularly not on social media, where internet trolls fight it out on both sides of the spectrum.

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