Rihanna Joins John Cusack in Speaking for Indian Human Rights

“Why aren’t we talking about this?”

That was Rihanna’s question on 2 February as she posted a link to a CNN article about how India has slashed internet access in various areas in response to the ongoing protest by farmers against the new agricultural laws introduced by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In raising her voice, Rihanna is one of just two American celebrities in recent years who have voiced concerns over the rising human rights violations under BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime. In January 2021, after US President Donald Trump lost his bid for re-election, actor John Cusack stated that he “hope[s] Modi goes the way of Trump sooner or later.” Previously, in January 2020, Cusack had compared Modi to Hitler. Earlier, Cusack — referring to India’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary, of which Modi is a member — called him “the RSS guy,” adding he was “literally trained up by open fascists.”

“They admire Hitler after all,” said Cusack about the RSS in January 2020. Indeed, founders of the RSS — which was founded in 1925, the same year that Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf and founded the Schutzstaffel (SS) — said their goal was to create a “a nation of Hindu people” which they compared to a “Germany of Germans.” The mentor of the paramilitary’s first leader visited fascist Italy, where he met with Benito Mussolini and, after viewing his fascist youth groups, subsequently declared that RSS was “of this kind” and that it “should imitate the Youth movement of Germany and the […] Fascist organizations of Italy.” VD Savarkar, who influenced the RSS’s ideology, claimed in the late 1930s that “a Nation is formed by a majority living therein” and compared Indian Muslims to “Jews in Germany,” suggesting that they should play the same part.

Later, MS Golwalkar, the second and longest-serving leader of the RSS, praised “the ancient Race Spirit, which prompted the Germanic tribes to over-run the whole of Europe” and insisted that, after “Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races — the Jews,” it was “a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”

“The massive farmer protests have been a significant challenge to Modi as months of demonstrations and sit-ins across the country against his key agricultural policy have grown into a stalemate marked by deadlocked talks between farmers and his administration,” noted the article shared by Rihanna. “Farmers argue that the new rules will leave them worse off by making it easier for corporations to exploit agricultural workers, and help big companies drive down prices.” RSS affiliates have supported the “government’s intention” with the laws and opposed their repeal.

As the singer Rihanna raises her voice in support of human rights in India, she joins the informed and repeatedly outspoken Cusack as one of the only American celebrities to take note of the growing grip of fascism over the world’s largest democracy. Her remarks are most welcome, but one hopes it will be followed by further action.

A few hours after Rihanna spoke out, environmental activist Greta Thunberg also raised her voice, stating: “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India.”

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Pieter Friedrich

Pieter Friedrich

Friedrich is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. Learn more about him at www.PieterFriedrich.com.