Day 23 of Farmers March: Mass withholding of social media ahead of march to Delhi, third time since the beginning of the protest

Accounts of journalists, farmer leaders, supporters targeted, even accounts of US-based citizen supporting the cause not spared; farmer leaders provide that they will soon be approaching the Supreme Court against such undemocratic tactics
Image: REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

On March 3, farmer unions and farmer leaders had announced that the farmers will continue with their ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest from March 6. With this, they had also urged the union and state governments to allow the protesting farmers from Punjab and Haryana passage to Delhi so that they could peacefully exercise their right to protest. Farmer leader Sarwan Singh Pandher had stated that if the government allows peaceful passage and right to demonstrate, it would clarify the union’s stance on letting the farmers exercise their right to protest. But, reports of the union government employing the same repressive tactics on farmers and farmer leaders have now emerged, signalling that the government is in no mood to back down. As per a report of the Wire, a day before the farmers were to begin with the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) Non-Political and Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM)’s ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest, more social media accounts were withheld by the union government. As per the report, on the night of March 4, the Union government withheld around hundred ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) accounts that belonged to farmer union leaders or those who have been supporting and covering the farmers’ cause.

It is essential to note that this is not the first time that the government has employed these censorship tactics. Since the beginning of the protests, the union government has indulged in such mass censorship and mass withholding of social media accounts two other times too. (Can be read here and here).

The ones silenced:

Amongst the ones whose accounts have been withheld is journalist Garvit Garg, working for Gaon Savera, who had been covering the farmers protest from on-ground. Previously, the X accounts of ‘Gaon Sawera’, a page run by independent journalist Mandeep Punia had been withheld, as was Mandeep’s personal page. Gaon Savera is a prominent name supporting the farmers’ protest and had been arrested in 2020. It is also pertinent to highlight here that even in August of 2023, when farmers had been protesting to demand compensation for the entire north India region to deal with the crop loss owing to floods, similar undemocratic tactics were employed by the government against Gaon Savera. Then, the Facebook page of Gaon Savera had been blocked to stop them from covering the protest.

Garg spoke to the Wire on the issue and said that the government has blocked all channels of information dissemination and attacked a citizen’s right to freedom of expression. Garg stated, “It is not just an attack on freedom of expression but a professional loss for us. Independent journalists work very hard to gather factual news and sustain their work. We are being continuously targeted by the government. Earlier the government had withheld the official page of Goan Savera and that of its editor, Mandeep Punia. This time, they targeted me”.

Terming this as an effort of the government to muzzle every voice on the ground, Garg called this is as a bad precedent that has left the farmers and those supporting them with no option to provide reports from the ground. As per the report of the Wire, Garg said, “There is a total blackout of farmers’ protests news everywhere. See, we could not even share the information of the Delhi Chalo call of March 6 on social media. It is a dangerous precedent, even those working with bigger media houses will also be attacked. Right now, we do not even see any way of fighting back”.

As per the report, many farmers have claimed that the union government has also targeted those accounts which have been promoting the farmers’ cause since the 2021-21 farmers’ protest. In line with the same, the account belonging to Sheena Sawhney, a dentist and US citizen, who has been supporting the farmers’ protest since the 2020-21 protests, was also withheld. Speaking with the Wire, Sawhney said “We led a huge group of people in the US and campaigned against the farm laws. I remained in touch with all the SKM leaders like Rakesh Tikait, Balbir Singh Rajewal and others to mobilise people but nobody blocked my Twitter account then. Now, when the farmers’ protest has just started, the government withheld my X account, which basically hints at moles within the farmers’ groups who were sharing our information with the government”.

Such oppressive moves by the union government have also clarified that not only Indian citizens, but even people abroad are on the radar of the union government and their social media accounts are also not safe. But, Sawhney asserted that the employment of such tactics will not stop her from supporting the cause of the protesting farmers and she will continue to support them. She also alleged that with the 2024 general elections around the corner, the government is not willing to have such protests take place.

“I am not rattled by the government’s action. Even if the government did not retrieve my X account, I would make a new account and continue to raise [my] voice for farmers. I was trolled and labelled as a ‘Khalistani’ for supporting farmers but the government never took any action against the trolls and it hurts. I spoke for farmers earlier; I will speak even now”, she said.

As per the report, Sawhney provided that the supporters of the farmers’ cause will write letters to senators, council members and higher authorities in the US to gain momentum for the farmers’ protest. Sawhney said, “We will reach out to people in the US, UK, Canada, Australia. Interestingly, the BJP and RSS people who supported George Floyd’s protest in the US were questioning the farmers’ protest and the tragic killing Shubhkaran Singh”.

The report also provides the statement of Gurshamshir Singh, a lawyer-turned-independent journalist from Patiala, whose X account was withheld for the first time. As per the report, Singh alleged that the government is employing censorship tactics as it does not want any information about the farmers’ protest to reach the masses. Talking to the Wire, Singh said that “The Delhi Chalo call of March 6 is the biggest reason why so many social media accounts were blocked in India. It has almost become a modus operandi of the government to block social media accounts whenever they see a potential of mass mobilisation”.

According to Singh, the union government is able to take such bold authoritarian steps in a democratic country without providing any explanation as no one is questing them. Singh said “The government knows that nobody is going to hold them accountable for this action, hence such emboldened actions. It is also an attempt to create a fear psychosis among people related to the farmers’ protest in the country. It is sad that the country was heading towards an authoritarian regime and in case you are from Punjab, you are more prone than others.”

Among others, Samita Kaur, an independent researcher from Chandigarh working for farmers and who was also running a campaign titled ‘We support our farmers’ was also targeted. Talking to the Wire, she said “We have been simply sharing news of the farmers’ protest. This time, the government was also targeting those accounts who were using the hashtags of farmers’ protest. We had just shared an article of the Human Rights Watch on the KMM page, after which our account was withheld”. Notably, Kaur had also spearheaded the ‘No farmer, No food’ campaign along with her peers in Chandigarh.

Kaur also expressed concern over the fact that farming was going to the corporations, against which the farmers have been leading this fight. Kaur said, “The corporations want to control and change the eating habits of the people. They want to decide what we are going to eat, hence the fight between the farmers and the corporates/government”.

Blocking social media ‘modus operandi’ of Modi government: Farmer leader

Farmer union leaders have showed no shock at the withholding of the social media accounts ahead of their planned march. Rather, they have termed the same to be the ‘modus operandi’ of the Modi government, where social media accounts were being repeatedly withheld in bulk whenever they gave a call to move to Delhi.

Speaking to The Wire, farmer union leader Gurpreet Sangha said that overnight, around 100 social media accounts belonging to farmers, farmer union leaders and people supporting the protest were withheld in India. Sangha also provided how his own accounts have been withheld three times since the beginning of this protest. Sangha said, “Till date, the government has withheld my three X accounts, which I made after each one of them was blocked in India”.

Sangha said that the union government does not want the voices of the farmers to reach the masses and these attempts of suppression are being employed out of fear. As per the report, Sangha said “The [Union] government’s message is clear: that they will not even let the farmers speak, leave alone the debate of right or wrong. Basically, the government fears the farmers’ protest that is why they were banning social media accounts. Even killing its own people should be the last resort of any regime, but either in panic or in despair, the government has misacted big time.”

Referring to the March 6 Delhi Chalo call, Sangha said that whether it is 100 farmers or 10,000, they will simply reach Jantar Mantar in Delhi and sit there in protest. As per the report, Sangha said “It is a purely organic announcement, where farmers from the rest of the country other than Punjab and Haryana would lead the protest”.

Sangha also provided that they will be taking legal recourse against the withholding of accounts and said, “We have decided to approach the Supreme Court in this case. Our legal team was working on it”,

Meanwhile, the legal team of the KMM, led by its coordinator, advocate Akhil Chaudhary from the Rajasthan high court, and Anjali Sheoran from the Punjab and Haryana high court, said in a statement that some social media accounts were blocked on the instructions of the Union government.

We see this as a violation of our freedom of expression and plan to challenge it in the Supreme Court. We have urged all affected individuals to join our petition and contact our team for necessary paperwork, including signing the vakalatnama and completing other formalities”, the Wire report quoted Chaudhary.

Visuals of security beefing up at the border:

Images and videos showing tightened security of the Delhi Police at Tikri, Singhu, and Ghazipur borders have emerged on social media. As per a report of the Times Now, metro and railway stations is also seeing beefing up of security ahead of planned farmer protests in the Delhi. As per the report, high vigilance is being maintained at crucial transit points such as railway stations, metro stations, and bus stands, and this heightened security posture may result in increased police checks across the city.


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