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Farmers’ Protest: Indian Celebrities Pick Sides on Twitter as International Icons Question Freedom of Speech, Human Rights in India

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Top: (Left) Akshay Kumar, (Middle) Paresh Rawal, (Right) Suniel Shetty Bottom: (Left)Rihanna for a Fenty Beauty campain in 2018 (Right) Sachin Tendulkar

Several members of the Indian film fraternity and sportspersons took to social media to voice their opinions after the Ministry of External Affairs’ issued a notice soon after notable international celebrities tweeted in support of the ongoing farmers’ protest in new Delhi

While international celebrities, including pop star Rihanna, American lawyer and author Meena Harris, American vlogger Amanda Cerny, raised concerns over freedom of speech, human rights, and democracy being “under assault” in the world’s “oldest and most populous” democratic country, environmental activist Greta Thunberg showed “solidarity” with the farmers’ protest. Former adult film star Mia Khalifa raised questions over the internet shutdown around New Delhi, among several other journalists, lawyers, professors and sportspersons. 

Several hashtags started trending, along with memes and cartoons that went viral both in support as well criticising the celebrities from right-wing supporters. The clamour among international icons supporting the farmers’ cause has shone a light on the striking silence from Indian celebrities regarding the ongoing protests. 

While some celebrities shared the statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, others echoed the same thought in varying sentences with the same hashtag mentioned in the statement, which seemed like a single press note. 

In its notice, the Ministry of External Affairs had mentioned that some “vested interest groups” who had “enforced their (farmers’) agenda” and “derailed” them that led to the Republic Day violence in the capital are the ones who are trying to “mobilise international support against India”. 

“Before rushing to comment on such a matter, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken. The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible,” the notice said. 

Indian Celebs And Their ‘Double Standards’

In the past, several Indian celebrities have been vocal about issues in Indian society as well as issues in other countries.  

In the wake of #BlackLivesMatter, which trended after Black American citizen George Floyd died after he was allegedly suffocated by a Minneapolis Police officer, Hindi actors Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Disha Patani, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor, director and producer Karan Johar raised their voices on Twitter against racism, and discrimination based on colour. They were, however, criticised and called “hypocrites” for their silence on violence on minorities in their own country, and not taking a stand during the CAA protests.  

The actors also faced criticism and were trolled for speaking about racism and discrimination based on colour while promoting fairness creams themselves or being brand ambassadors of such products.  

Recently, when migrating labourers walked home for several kilometres in the punishing heat during the Covid-19 lockdown, these celebrities were called out for refusing to comment on the issue.  

Most of these celebrities also decided to stay silent on the ongoing farmers’ protest issue.  

On February 1, journalist Rana Ayyub wrote: “Hello India. This is not the time to be neutral. This is the time to pick a side. This is the time to chose democracy over dictatorship.” 

Several Indian celebrities, including renowned singer and Bharat Ratna awardee Lata Mangeshkar picked sides on Twitter and shared the MEA’s notice. 

Interestingly, all three lead actors of the hit film Hera Pheri- Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty, and Paresh Rawal, took a firm stand against the international voices supporting the agitating farmers. 

Shetty tweeted: “We must always take a comprehensive view of things, as there is nothing more dangerous than half truth.” 

“As Indians we are capable of solving all the problems and move forward together and towards building a strong NATION. Jai Hind ,” tweeted Rawal. 

Kumar has previously been trolled for claiming to be a true Indian citizen despite being a Canadian citizen. In 2019, he announced that he would be giving up his Canadian citizenship. 

Sharing the Centre’s statement, Kumar wrote: “Farmers constitute an extremely important part of our country. And the efforts being undertaken to resolve their issues are evident. Let’s support an amicable resolution, rather than paying attention to anyone creating differences.” 

In its February 2021 issue, The Caravan magazine termed Kumar as the “Poster boy of Hindutva”.  

Notably, badminton player Saina Nehwal posted the same tweet as Kumar.  

Asking outsiders not to “interfere in our internal matters”, retired athlete PT Usha tweeted: “We are proud of our own culture and heritage and are the true model of Democracy. Don’t interfere in our internal matters, we know how to resolve our own issues because we are one and only nation in the world upholding UNITY IN DIVERSITY.“ 

Former Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar tweeted: “India’s sovereignty cannot be compromised. External forces can be spectators but not participants. Indians know India and should decide for India. Let’s remain united as a nation.”  

Fans disappointed when Master himself joined the government’s bandwagon, they trended hashtags #ShameOnSachinTendulkar on Twitter and took the opportunity to apologise to Tennis player Maria Sharapova for criticising her back in 2014 when she had said that she wasn’t aware of who Tendulkar was. People spoke about the difference between “Reel Life Heroes” and “Real Life Heroes” 

Many more cricket players like Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravi Shastri, Anil Kumble, Suresh Raina took to Twitter to tweet their right-wing leaning opinions regarding the issue, taking their fans by surprise as these cricketers were known to keep silent about such issues.  

Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli tweeted: “Let us all stay united in this hour of disagreements. Farmers are an integral part of our country and I’m sure an amicable solution will be found between all parties to bring about peace and move forward together.“ 

Other celebrities including actor Ajay Devgan, director and producer Karan Johar, actor Kangana Ranaut warned people to not “fall for false propaganda” and that India “together” will find a solution to the farmers’ issues.  

Twitter removed several tweets by Ranaut and restricted her from tweeting for several hours on Thursday stating “violation of the Twitter rules”. The actor who has persistently termed the protesting farmers as “terrorists”, called Rihanna a “porn-singer” and Greta Thunberg a “dumbo kid” after they supported the farmers’ protest. She posted a derogatory reply to Rohit Sharma’s tweet and termed him a dhobi ka kutta (a worthless person who is unfit for any task), which Twitter removed. She also posted Rihanna’s pictures from her albums in bikinis and western clothes along with her own pictures worshipping in sarees calling herself a “Sanghi naari” with captions like “Right Wing role model VS Left Wing role model … I rest my case.” 

A section of Indian celebrities, however, slammed those who have been criticising the international voices supporting the farmers. This includes comedians Kunal Kamra, Vir Das, Sahil Shah, actors Taapsee Pannu, Sushant Singh, Raghu Ram, writers and authors Anna MM Vetticad, Sonia Faleira, Hussain Haidry, Karthik, journalists Rana Ayyub, Rituparna Chatterjee, Dhanya Rajendran, Sumanth Raman, Mohammed Zubair, Reji K., Supriya Sharma cartoonist Satish Acharya, webpages Svukku Shankar and Trendulkar among a few others. 

Comedian and actor Vir Das tweeted “Honestly, I don’t think Rihanna or Greta have anything more than superficial wisdom about Indian farmers. But gotta say it’s hilarious to see literally thousands of shaky Indian men get mobilized over a tweet, all the while proclaiming how secure they are in their policymakers.” 

After the Indian celebrities shared MEA’s circular, Twitter’s top trend on Thursday was #SpinelessCelebs, #SachinTendulkar and #ShameOnSachinTendulkar. 

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