We see the Indian ruling government failing its democracy every single day one way or the other and it’s time we stop being quiet. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression- two of the most fundamental rights a democracy offers to its people are being snatched away, bit by bit, leaving behind nothing but a legacy of nationalist supporters of the authoritarian fascist government. As if brutally hurting the right of peaceful protest wasn’t enough, the government of India is now trying to ensure people don’t raise their voice at all and the world stays unaware of this government’s devastatingly undemocratic activities. Because if people don’t get to protest on roads and they don’t get to voice their concerns on social media either, how do you think anybody would get to know what is happening behind these closed walls, after all, it is all an ‘Internal matter’, right? Oh, did you think of our beloved national media? Well, if we can expect anything from them, it would be to merely see half-truths, misrepresented facts and some new conspiracies every day on our television screens. The fourth pillar of democracy, what’s that?
Government of India instructed Twitter to take down a large number of accounts from the platform in the lieu of sharing provocative content and misinformation around the world’s largest protest in history, especially after the Republic day violence. Now, this would seem like a legitimate cause had it been actually because of the accounts sharing provocative statements. Most of the accounts that were there in the list of to-be banned by the government are those accounts that were simply reporting what was happening on the ground level, in the protests, because our national media has so terribly failed to do so. The accounts instructed to be banned include those of The Caravan India, Kisaan Ekta morcha, and The Prasar Bharti’s CEO Shashi Shekhar’s account- people engaged in ground reporting and continuous developments in the ongoing farmers’ agitation. Briefly, accounts of civil society activists, politicians and independent media houses. We can see a pattern so clearly that our heads bow down in shame. The government is so desperately trying to contain voices and is ready to go to many extend to do so- be it violating its own citizens’ fundamental rights or tossing to the ground the entire democracy of the country.
Twitter is a microblogging platform. It is created for people to be able to freely express their views because democracy is nothing without its disagreements. It is undeniably important to contain misinformation and instances that can be provocative, but when the government allows misinformation to freely run on national news channels but creates tantrums for a social media platform that is made for the very purpose of people expressing opinions, it makes you question the true narrative. To prove my point, recall all media channels picking up a portion of USA’s statement on the farm laws and portraying it as ‘USA supports farm laws, saying it’ll benefit the country’ while the true statement read ‘In general, USA will be ready to support any policy change that’ll be good for the country’. So much for misrepresentation, isn’t it?
And despite that, respecting the country’s laws, Twitter banned the accounts for some time and later lifted the ban on some, stating that those accounts did not breach twitter’s policies neither did they violate the terms provided by the government. And as if the government isn’t already doing enough to suppress voices, it warned Twitter of penal action for non-compliance and threats of being banned from the country if it doesn’t restrict the list of 1178 accounts being provided by the government. Freedom of expression seems like a joke in here, not only for people on the roads but for the platforms as well. And while we’re at it, let’s call out the government’s bias. Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, that publicly claimed the Sikh celebrity, Diljit Dosanjh, to be a Khalistani i.e. a member of the Sikh separatist group, an extremist, solely based on his religion and the fact that he stood in support of the farmers’ movement, to her lakhs of followers broke the conduct of misinformation at a surprisingly large level. Why did the government not seem to lift an eye on it? So, is it provocation only by those who support the farmers’ protests that needs to be banned?
However, the social media giant in a blog post revealed it hasn’t banned handles of civil society activists, politicians and independent media houses as it would violate their fundamental right to free expression. It emphasised on how it would continue to advocate for the right of free expression for its users and that it is actively exploring options under Indian law both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted. Twitter has also requested a formal word with the Minister of Ministry of Electronics and Information technology in respect to the matter. Looks like at least somebody cares about the democracy being saved. Oh, and what does it have in return? A warning of penal action in case of non-compliance to its directives and charges under sections that constitute a heavy amount of fine and prison for up to 7 years. This is what we do now, forcing people into submission?
So, let’s just rather call it what it is, an authoritarian rule. A military rule. Anything but a democracy. Because we’ve seen enough of throwing protestors in jail, brutalising them and throwing shady charges on them, and we had still hoped this wasn’t the end of our democracy. But banning accounts, warning employees and issuing statements against a social media platform? Well, it agonises me to say this can be anything but a democracy. Censoring content, permitting what information is posted on social media platforms and forcing a microblogging platform to ban accounts or face employee arrest is not what a government whose job is to supposedly maintain law and order does or should do. This, right here, is your chance to take the blinds off your eyes and hold the government accountable for its actions.