Rihanna’s advocacy for farmers in India has caught the attention of many around the world, including the Indian government.
On Tuesday, the Barbados-born superstar asked her 100 million followers, “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” and linked to a CNN story examining how India has cut off internet access around New Delhi after violent clashes between police and farmers protesting new agriculture laws approved in September.
Farmers argue that the laws will ravage their livelihoods and create an opportunity for large, private companies to exploit the agriculture sector.
The internet restrictions came “in the interest of maintaining public safety and averting public emergency,” according to the Ministry of Home Affairs, after weekend violence saw dozens of officers injured and one protester killed, according to police officials.
More than half of India’s working population comes from the agricultural sector, according to India’s most recent Census in 2011. The laws could affect millions of Indian farmers and consumers, and they could also impact global consumers who rely on India for ingredients like pepper, turmeric and chilli.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the new laws will give farmers a chance to decide their own prices and sell directly to private businesses like grocery chains. That, he says, would cut out the middle man, in this case the Agricultural Produce Market Committee.
Farmers argue the new laws will help big companies drive down prices. They say that while farmers could sell crops at higher prices if the demand is there, they could struggle with lower prices in years when there is too much supply in the market.
India’s Supreme Court has put the farm laws on hold until further notice.
The tweet heard around the world
A couple of hours after Rihanna’s message, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen known for her climate activism, said via Twitter that she stood “in solidarity with the #FarmersProtests in India.”
More celebrities and athletes have followed suit.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma echoed Rihanna on Twitter, saying, “We should be talking about this!” And Juju Smith-Schuster, a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, showed his support by donating $10,000 to provide medical assistance to farmers in need.
The Indian government seemed to take notice of the celebrity attention surrounding the protests and issued a statement criticizing those coming to the aid of farmers online.
“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.”
Several Bollywood celebrities like Akshay Kumar, Karan Johar and Suneil Shetty have defended the Indian government. Kumar asked people to “support an amicable resolution, rather than paying attention to anyone creating difference,” and Shetty asked people to “take a comprehensive view of things, as there is nothing more dangerous than half truth.”
Despite the Indian government’s remarks, Thunberg doubled down on Thursday. “I still #StandWithFarmers and support their peaceful protest,” she tweeted. “No amount of hate, threats or violations of human rights will ever change that. #FarmersProtest.”