Protesting farmers spend Basant Panchami facing government’s water cannons and tear gases’ government withholds social media accounts of farm leaders, journalists

Haryana police uses drones to throw tear gas at farmers, Daughter of Professor MS Swaminathan requests government to not treat farmers like criminals while celebrating the Bharat Ratna awarded to her father

“Don’t treat farmers like they are criminals” said Dr. Madhura Swaminathan, Economist and daughter of Professor MS Swaminathan, while celebrating the conferring of Bharat Ratna award to her father, who was a global leader and an agricultural scientist. The said request was made in reference to the excessive and unjustified state action being taken against the farmers who are participating in the farmers march to Delhi to demand for a law guaranteeing minimum support price (MSP) for their produce along with six other demands. Ironically, one of the demands raised by the protesting farmers is for the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations that provided for safeguarding the interest of small farmers and addressing the issue of increasing risk overtaking agriculture as a profession. 

In her interview, Dr. Madhura Swaminathan could be further heard saying that “Today, the farmers of Punjab are marching to Delhi. There are jails being prepared, there are barricades and all kinds of things in place to prevent them. These are farmers, they are not criminals. I request all of you, the leading scientists of India, we must talk to our Annadatas (food providers). We cannot treat them as criminals. We have to find solutions, please, this is my request that if we have to continue to honour MS Swaminathan, we have to take the farmers with us in whatever strategy we are planning for the future.”

Hopefully, the ones who conferred this prestigious award to Professor MS Swaminathan will also hear the pleadings of his daughter and take back the repressive and unjust tactics being employed against the unarmed farmers exercising their right to protest.  

The struggle to march to Delhi by farmers continues

Since yesterday, visuals of tear gas, water cannons and rubber pellets being fired at the protesting farmers have been surfacing from the Shambu border of Haryana. Even today, videos show the Haryana police relentlessly targeting the protesting farmers, fully determined to prevent the farmers from being able to reach the national capital. A report by the Hindu stated that the Haryana Police became the first police force in India to use drones to launch tear gas devices with the Haryana Police dropping tear gas shells from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) on protesting farmers at Shambhu Barrier on the Punjab-Haryana boundary. As per the report, a police official has stated that the State government used drones made by Drone Imaging and Information Service of Haryana Limited (DRIISHYA), a public limited company incorporated in 2021. Interestingly, according to a Haryana government press release of April 4, 2023, the said drones had been designed for “surveying infrastructure projects, monitoring of agriculture and horticulture crops, and surveillance of sensitive areas for security purposes.” As per the report of the Hindu, the company is located at Karnal. 

Visuals of farmers flying kites at the border in attempts to tackle the drones have surfaced on social media. Ironically, the festival of Basant Panchami also falls today, on February 14. This festival is supposed to be joyfully celebrated by Sikhs and Hindus to mark the beginning of spring. The ones celebrating the festival wear yellow-coloured clothes to emulate the bright yellow mustard flowers in the fields. This year, the farmers had to spend it facing the state’s unjust display of power.

On February 14, a press note was also sent by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) to media personnel and others through which they have condemned the violent repression unleashed on farmers marching to Delhi at Shanbhu Border and other places. In the press note, the AIKS had stated “The use of drones to throw teargas, the concrete barricades, rubber bullets, huge iron spikes on the roads and the indiscriminate arrests of farmers and leaders exposes the barbaric face of the BJP Government led by Narendra Modi. The use of drones to drop tear gas on farmers shows the extreme vengeance that this BJP Government holds for the farmers of our country. AIKS warns the BJP Government to desist from such attacks on democratic right to protest. AIKS will join in unity with all democratic forces as well as the Samyukta Kisan Morcha and the Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions to resist such repressive measures. AIKS demands release of all arrested leaders and end repression.”

Along with this, the AIKS had called for the farmers to re-double their efforts in the upcoming protest of February 16 where the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, which had super headed the previous one year long farmers protest against the three controversial farm laws, have collaborated with ten Central Trade Unions (CTUs) to hold a rural and industrial strike.

The press note states “AIKS calls upon all its units to redouble efforts to rally farmers and workers as well as all democratic sections on 16th February across the country by also prominently taking a campaign on the repression unleashed along with other issues of the struggle. The incessant protests by farmers and workers are a result of repeated betrayals by Narendra Modi and the BJP Government. The move by the BJP Government to unleash violence on farmers is a sign of desperation. It is a clear sign that their divisive efforts of communal polarisation are being rebuffed by the farmers, workers and masses of our country. Its efforts to divert attention from people’s problems and livelihood issues, unemployment, poverty, hunger through communal polarisation and hate campaign is clearly failing. It is their sense of fear of the people’s unity that they are reacting in such a manner.”

‘X’ (formerly Twitter) accounts of those posting on the farmers protest withheld

As per multiple media reports, over a dozen social media accounts of farmer leaders and those posting updates on the farmer protests have been withheld by ‘X’ (formerly Twitter). As per a report of The Wire, X and Facebook accounts that were allegedly functioning as the official pages of farmers’ organisations and unions ahead of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest have been withheld in India – ostensibly upon government request.

It is pertinent to highlight here that the blocking of the social media accounts of farmers began even before their protest did. As per the report of the Wire, accounts of farmers were withheld on February 12. This ban on social media accounts is in addition to the prohibition on internet services as well as bulk SMS services being in place in seven districts of Haryana since February 11. 

Till now, X accounts and Facebook pages of prominent farmer leaders like Sarvan Singh Pandher, the coordinator of Kisan Mazdoor Morcha (KMM), Tejveer Singh Ambala, the spokesperson of BKU (Shaheed Bhagat Singh), farmer leader Ramandeep Singh Mann, Surjit Singh Phull from BKU Krantikari, farmer leader Harpal Sangha, Ashok Danoda from Haryana and many others have been withheld. As per multiple media reports including the Wire, official pages which supported the movement and posted updates on it, like @Tractor2twitr_P run by Bhavjit Singh, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Shaheed Bhagat Singh) and Progressive Farmers Front, run by Guramneet Singh Mangat have also been banned. Notably, BKU (SBS) is one of the main farmer unions which was leading the farmers’ protest from Ambala, Haryana.

‘Gaon Sawera’, a page run by independent journalist Mandeep Punia has been withheld, as has been Mandeep’s personal page. Mandeep is a prominent name supporting the farmers’ protest and had been arrested in 2020.  Garvit Garg, another journalist from Gaon Savera is not providing frequent updates from the farmers protest.

It is important to highlight here that this is not the first time that the government of India has abused their powers and opaquely withholding social media accounts as even during earlier farmers’ protest of 2020, the Union government had banned many social media accounts including the official page of Kisan Ekta Morcha.


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