It all started in September of 2020.
The Indian government had just rushed to pass three farm acts in the Parliament. And that gave birth to what is now being known worldwide as the farmers protest. For the remainder of 2020, this movement gained national momentum. It started with peaceful protests in hopes that the Modi government would listen to the farmers’ pleas and amend the acts. But then things slowly started getting out of hand as protests turned violent. The government then resorted to shutting down the internet in parts of the capital of New Delhi and the state of Haryana. Then, a few days ago, somehow, Rihanna got wind of the situation and dismantled what was left of India’s democracy in just six words, “Why aren’t we talking about this?!”
— Rihanna (@rihanna) February 2, 2021
These six words, one tweet, one simple question, gave this protest the boost it needed to be talked about on the world stage. And talk about it people did. Activist Greta Thunberg got involved, and so did Vice President Kamala Harris’s niece Meena Harris. And then a bunch of celebrities across the globe started to amplify the situation. Meanwhile, the Indian government was rattled. And extreme supporters of the Modi government started to hurl abuses at all these people left, right, and center. Death threats, harassment threats, legal threats. You name it, their comment sections were filled with it. And somewhere among those tweets and hashtags, India’s democracy – or what was left of it, anyway – died an untimely death.
So why are these farmers protesting?
As mentioned earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi fast-tracked the passing of three farm laws in the parliament in an attempt to reshape farming in India. These laws would minimize the government’s role in agriculture and open more space for private investors. The government says the new laws would enfranchise farmers and private investment, bringing growth. But farmers are skeptical, fearing that the removal of state protections that they already consider insufficient would leave them at the mercy of greedy corporations.
The government had supported the farmers in the 1960s, guaranteeing minimum prices for essential crops, and that had helped the country through the hunger crisis during that time. But with the liberalization of the economy in India in recent years, the government does not see this as something feasible anymore. Hence the laws. And the farmers are agitated because the support and protection that the government used to provide them normally isn’t that helpful in the first place. And they believe that market-friendly laws will eventually eliminate regulatory support and leave them bereft, with the weakened economy offering little chance of a different livelihood.
Rihanna and the unprecedented backlash against her
And then Rihanna voiced her concerns, and all of a sudden, everything exploded. India, instead of taking the dignified approach and actually trying to fix the problem, began an unprecedented backlash against Rihanna and anyone else who dared to say something was wrong. The ministry of external affairs released a statement criticizing “celebrities and others” for their “neither accurate nor responsible” comments, and top ministers and celebrities tweeted against “propaganda” that threatened India’s unity.
The pro-government news channels amplified that message, running headlines that described Rihanna as “an ill-informed outsider” who was a part of a “plot to divide India” and vowing that “propaganda will not win”. One Bollywood actress known for her pro-government opinions called Rihanna a “porn star”. People started linking her to ISIS and calling her out for meddling in “internal matters”. And because people like sinking to new lows every day simply because they cannot digest the fact that the government they unhealthily worship could do something wrong, some misogynistic trolls decided to praise her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown for assaulting her in 2009.
The government pushback was swift, led by Home Minister Amit Shah who tweeted on Wednesday night with hashtags #IndiaAgainstPropaganda and #IndiaTogether.
No propaganda can deter India’s unity!
No propaganda can stop India to attain new heights!
Propaganda can not decide India’s fate only ‘Progress’ can.
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) February 3, 2021
And soon after, scores of spineless Indian celebrities and famous personalities started tweeting identical tweets, making it extremely obvious that they were asked to do so by the government.
The irony of standing up against propaganda but end up with exactly the same tweet word for word. How dumb do you have to be as a sycophantic Modi celeb that you can't even come up with something original without relying on your political "advisors"… pic.twitter.com/3c6jXPLzPC
— Rupa Subramanya (@rupasubramanya) February 4, 2021
Funnily enough, all those people who were trying to accuse Rihanna of making a “paid tweet” or “spreading propaganda” didn’t have anything to say about this.
And when Greta Thunberg posted a ‘toolkit’ on Twitter that contained documents guiding people on how to support the protests, the Delhi Police decided to file a case because it “exposes the conspiracy by an organized overseas network” to instigate the farmer protests. Oh, and some pro-government activists then proceeded to burn photos of her, because that is totally the sane thing to do. So many people and government officials took to Twitter to express their outrage over “outsiders” interfering in “internal matters”. But when a mob of insurrectionists attacked the US Capitol back in January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tweeted his distress about the same. Why did no one stop him then? Clearly it is an internal matter for Americans to handle?
Distressed to see news about rioting and violence in Washington DC. Orderly and peaceful transfer of power must continue. The democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 7, 2021
The government of India is so terrified of portraying the country in a bad light on a global platform but will go ahead and get every famous personality in the country to tweet the same propaganda nonsense, arrest a comedian for a joke they never made, suspend Twitter accounts that are trying to spread awareness on issues, and then silence the people who try to hold them accountable for their actions. Some democracy, this.
In a democracy, the job of the government is to work FOR the people. And the job of the public and the media is to hold the government accountable for its actions whenever necessary. Not throw assault and death threats around like it’s confetti, not silence the voices of the people by cutting off their resources, just because they don’t agree with you. In all the time Modi has been in power, he hasn’t held a single press conference. No one has been able to hold him accountable for his actions. And all the famous personalities and journalists in high positions have decided to turn a blind eye to everything, kiss up to the government and work to serve their own self-interest.
Journalists instead of questioning the government decide to spread even more propaganda, people have been brainwashed so badly with religious bias that they will brand you anti-national if you even so much as say something that doesn’t align with their views. Whatever this country has been operating on over the last few months is not democracy. Not by a long shot. And it will continue to be this way unless the government is held accountable for its actions. This tweet perfectly sums it up:
The difference is that the US cop was fired, with national outrage as US celebrities, Hollywood & US media spoke truth to power.
In New India brutality is rewarded. Bollywood & Lapdog Media normalizes or covers up barbaric violence by a repressive govt.
— Geet V (@geetv79) February 3, 2021
The farmers’ protest is just one of the few things that is currently exposing the gaping holes in India’s democracy. We are moving closer and closer to becoming an authoritarian regime. And things don’t look like they will change anytime soon. Maybe Rihanna’s call to attention will exert some pressure on the government to do the right thing, but I’m not holding my breath. As for India still being a sovereign, democratic nation as dictated by the Constitution? That ship sailed a long time ago.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons