Empowering hashtags and celebrity social media solidarity doesn’t keep #IndiaTogether

An Indian farmer harvests vegetables from a field in Kanachak village, on the outskirts of Jammu, India, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Tens of thousands of farmers have been hunkering down at the Indian capital’s fringes to protest new agricultural laws they say will leave them poorer and at the mercy of corporations. The protests are posing a major challenge to Modi who has billed the laws as necessary to modernize Indian farming. Photo by Channi Anand/AP Photo.

It’s been six months since the start of the Indian Farmers’ protest, a demonstration staged by farmers concentrated in the states of Punjab and Haryana. These farmers are challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s farming acts that have reduced the government’s role in agriculture and increased private investors’ opportunity for profits. TIME USA calls the protests a turning point for India’s democracy — the world’s largest democracy. Additionally, the protests have brought attention to the state of human rights in India. In the past few years, India has ranked 142 of 180 countries according to the Press Freedom Index and 111 of 162 according to the Human Freedom Index. The recent reactions of Indian politicians and celebrities to the global attention that the protests are receiving reinforced that the world’s largest democracy is in fact a severely outdated democracy.  

On Feb. 2 of this year, Rihanna tweeted a CNN link that detailed how India blocked Internet access around New Delhi due to farmers clashing with authorities. She captioned the tweet, “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” Within hours, the tweet went viral and political, and Bollywood celebrities launched a huge backlash against the singer. The Indian Home Minister, Amit Shah, tweeted: “No Propaganda can deter India’s unity! … India stands united and together to achieve progress.”  

What’s frustrating is that Shah is implying that the news media coverages and viral social media posts are the root to India’s current divide. His hashtags, #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda, reused by famous Indian celebrities like Akshay Kumar and Sachin Tendulkar, suggests that there was unity to begin with when in reality, farmers are frustrated for being marginalized by their own government. The truth is that there is no #IndiaTogether if politicians don’t #GetTheirActTogether and create policies that in practice, protect their people.  

What’s even more appalling is Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut’s response to Rihanna’s tweet. The actress tweeted, “Stand together India destroy these communists who are trying to take advantage of terrorist activities in our nation and these porn stars making 2 cents at our cost.” Ranaut further states, “She hasn’t released a single song in 5 years, sells makeup but looks like she is feeling Corona blues … also notice in her tweet she did not commit to any opinion just a vague tweet.”  

My question is, why would Rihanna, one of Forbes’ richest self-made women in America with a net worth of $600 million need to increase her follower count or make money off sharing a story? Rihanna’s obvious impartial tweet wasn’t trying to incite national division or proliferate an opinion about an issue she isn’t too familiar with. She was just trying to use her platform to promote awareness of the huge protest. Aside from Ranaut, many nationalists began to bring up Rihanna’s assault, openly supporting Chris Brown’s abuse on the singer. Name-calling artists and rationalizing partner abuse in response to increasing attention on the farmer protest in India just shows how insecure nationalists are about the domestic state of their country and their little respect for individuals within and outside their borders.  

But then again, who are Americans to call out the Indian human rights violations? We belong to a country known for its systemic racism. What do we know? Well, nothing really. However, it’s important to realize parallels between our problematic history and other abysmal violations of human rights past our borders and work to bring awareness to both. Tweeting and reposting posts of a protest halfway across the world won’t directly protect farmers from greedy corporations. However, starting and spreading a global conversation might put enough pressure on the Indian government to reconsider and revise their policies.  

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