Tut-tut, Twitter India

02 Feb,2021

Screenshots of the accounts that have been abruptly withheld by Twitter. Photos: Twitter/@zoo_bear. Courtesy The Wire


By Ranjona Banerji


On Monday, February 1, 2021 Twitter India “withheld” about 100 Twitter accounts and 150 tweets based on a complaint from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, according to news reports.

These accounts were connected to or had commented on the ongoing farmers’ protests. They included prominent farmers’ union accounts, news outlets, journalists and politicians. The government apparently decided that these accounts and their tweets of January 30 were “fake, intimidatory and provocative”.


That Twitter, which stood up to Donald Trump when he was still President of the United States but finds it difficult to find the same courage when it comes to the Government of India, only highlights how difficult it is to uphold freedom of speech in India.

By Monday evening, the accounts were restored but whether that was because of the massive outrage or because Twitter India discovered some hidden reserve of courage, who knows?

What we do know is that the reach of the state and its capacity to restrict voices it cannot tolerate is immeasurable and its position is vindictive. The FIRs admitted by police stations in UP and MP, against a number of journalists and politicians who questioned police reports that farmer Navreet Singh died from a tractor accident, already made this clear last week.

Some of those who tweeted that Navreet Singh had died from a bullet wound or had accused the Delhi police of shooting him, like TV personality Rajdeep Sardesai, retracted their statements and deleted their tweets. But that was not enough for the Government of India. Hence, the sustained harassment.

However, a number of publications all of last week and this week have continued to present the accusations of Navreet Singh’s family that the young farmer did indeed die of a bullet injury.

The link below is from The Guardian, which also quotes a UK pathologist.


This is from The Times of India:


That journalists make mistakes is neither new nor always excusable. But that a police version of events cannot be questioned is unacceptable in a democracy, assuming we are still one.

On that assumption of democracy. Twitter India’s seeming capitulation to government pressure is an indication of the dangers that democracy faces in India.

Also on January 30, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom, several pro-BJP, pro-Government, Hindutva Twitter handles tweeted praise for Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse. Through the week several similar handles also called for a “return to 1984” and referenced former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Operation Blue Star. Some openly called for genocide against Sikhs, and “return to 1984” was a dog whistle reference to the pogrom against Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Obviously, these handles were not targeted either by the Government of India or by Twitter India.

The double standard is clear.

The tragedy is that Twitter has, for now, almost made itself indispensable to international discourse. It is a forum for connectivity, not just for sharing news and discussion. This gives it a greater responsibility on a global scale. Kowtowing or surrendering to government pressure of the sort it has demonstrated in India goes against that grain.


The arrest of freelance journalist Mandeep Punia for reporting on the farmers’ protests is one more highhanded action by the Government of India. There is no fig leaf here: independent voices have to be muzzled. That Punia has been sent to judicial custody also demonstrates how the legal system appears to have abandoned Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

What hope now?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal

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