File image: Farmers' protest
On February 2, Barbadian singer and businesswoman Rihanna posted a tweet that many of her followers on the social media platform would not have expected. “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” the 32-year-old asked, along with CNN’s news report on the farmers’ protest in India against the contentious farm reform laws.
Within minutes, “Rihanna” was trending on Twitter and Google Trends also showed a significant spike in searches for the signer as well as the farmers’ protest.
The Hollywood star’s post had an immediate and wide impact on social media. Hours later, climate activist Greta Thunberg also extended her support to the agitation. “We stand in solidarity with #FarmersProtest in India", Thunberg tweeted late on February 2.
Rihanna and Thunberg's tweets led to a spike in search for terms related to farmers’ protest in many parts of the world, putting the agitation on the global map.
As of 7.50 am on February 3, Rihanna’s tweet had received more than 3.7 lakh 'likes' and over 1.5 lakh retweets. Thunberg's post had been 'liked' more than 74,000 times and retweeted over 30,000 times.
Thousands of farmers, especially from Punjab and Haryana, are staging a sit-in protest along Delhi’s borders. The protest started on November 26 and has continued for over two months.
The farmers are demanding a complete rollback of the new agriculture reform laws and a guarantee on the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system being retained. Multiple rounds of talks between the central government and the farmers’ union leaders have ended in a stalemate. Protesting farmers fear that the new laws will dismantle the MSP system and corporatise farming. However, the Centre has maintained that these reforms will benefit farmers.
On January 26, the protest turned violent when some farmers deviated from a pre-decided route of their Republic Day tractor rally and clashed with police. Some protesters scaled the ramparts of the Red Fort. While a farmer died during the chaos, several protestors and police personnel were injured in the ensuing clashes.
In its report released on February 2, global non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch urged the Indian government to “drop the charges, which include sedition, promoting communal disharmony and making statements prejudicial to national integration” against eight journalists covering the protests and Republic Day violence.
The charges these journalists are facing are "baseless", the organisation said.
Rihanna and Thunberg are not the first prominent personalities to back the protests or express concern about the farm reform laws. Actors Sonam Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra had earlier shown support to the agitation. Celebrities such as Diljit Dosanjh, Harbhajan Mann, Jasbir Jassi, Reitesh Deshmukh, director Hansal Mehta and others have already voiced their support to the protesting farmers.
In a tweet, Kisan Ekta Morcha said: "Glad! Thanks, @rihanna for expressing your concern towards the ongoing farmer protest. 'Hopeful'; that the masses stand by the truth. Whole world can see but why can't govt.?? (sic)"
However, some criticised Rihanna for what they called was interference in India’s internal matters. Former Indian cricketer Pragyan Ojha said: “My country is proud of our farmers and knows how important they are, I trust it will be addressed soon. We don’t need an outsider poking her nose in our internal matters!”
“No one is talking about it because they are not farmers they are terrorists who are trying to divide India so that China can take over our vulnerable broken nation and make it a Chinese colony much like the USA... Sit down you fool, we are not selling our nation like you dummies,” Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut said in a tweet.
Rihanna, who hails from the Caribbean island nation of Barbados, lives in the United States. She has been vocal about several causes, as reflected from her Twitter timeline. The singer and businesswoman had also spoken about justice for US police shooting victim Breonna Taylor. On February 2, she also tweeted that her prayers are with Myanmar following the military coup in the Southeast Asian country.
Thunberg is an 18-year-old Swedish environmental activist known for pushing world leaders to take immediate steps to tackle climate change. She is known for her blunt speeches and public criticism of world leaders, including former US President Donald Trump. She was also named the 'Person of the Year' by TIME magazine in 2019.