Farmers Protest: Events so Far

Source: Hindustan Times

The historic Republic Day tractor parade, in which over 200,000 tractors had participated, turned violent as the police began tear-gassing and baton-charging protesting farmers who broke police barricades during the rally. The farmers, angered by police action, deviated from the agreed upon route and stormed the Red Fort, hoisting bright yellow flags inside the complex. This led to another round of clashes, where the police did not hold back on their baton-charging. Several protesters and police personnel were injured during this mayhem and a farmer, Navreet Singh, was also killed. Three routes were cleared for the farmers to hold the parade - 63-km route near Singhu Border, 62.5 km-long route from Tikri border, a 68-km long route from Ghazipur border that divides Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. But one of the key participants - the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee - declared that it would not stick to the route agreed upon by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha and the police.

Mainstream Indian media took this as an opportunity to vilify the protesters and discredit the movement that has been going on for months now. On the other hand, liberals and supporters of the movement too voiced their displeasure with those protesters who had resorted to violence and vandalism. The Samyukti Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of the farmers’ unions, said it dissociates itself "from all such elements that have violated our discipline".

Internet services at the three protesting sites- Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri- remained suspended for days after the clashes on January 26th. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) invoked the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety Rules 2017) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 to suspend Internet in Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri from 11 p.m. on January 31 to 11 p.m. on February 2. The emergency provisions were invoked by the MHA on January 26 and January 29 during the farmers’ protest, the Hindu reported. Cases against 125 farmers have been registered so far and 21 protesters are still missing since Republic Day.

Since these events, the world has finally woken up and is beginning to take notice of the farmers protests going on in India- one of the largest protests in the history of the world’s largest democracy. It started with a tweet by American singer Rihanna, who shared a news article about the farmers’ protest, and asked a simple question- “Why aren’t we talking about this?” Greta Thunberg and Mia Khalifa were also among the growing list of global celebrities who began talking about the farmers’ protests which started gaining ground in November last year.

This is all it took for hell to break loose, as followers of the ruling party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), rushed to social media to defend their government’s decisions as well as the three contentious farm laws which the farmers want to repeal. The BJP’s supporters began hurling abuses and threats at Rihanna and Greta, and anyone else who dared to speak up in support of the farmers. A morphed image of Rihanna holding the Pakistani flag went viral, which Modi’s supporters used as evidence that Rihanna indeed had nefarious intentions. The image, of course, was eventually proved to be fake. In the original picture taken on July 1, 2019, Rihanna is holding a flag with the Cricket West Indies (CWI) crest. The snapshot was taken during the Sri Lanka vs West Indies cricket match in the ICC 2019 World Cup game in Durham.

Alongside this, the harassment of journalists continued both online and offline. Journalist Rana Ayyub described the abuse she received as "something I have never witnessed before". After the events of January 26, many journalists who covered the farmers' protests are facing criminal charges, such as sedition, promoting communal disharmony, and making statements prejudicial to national integration. Uttar Pradesh police filed a case against Siddharth Varadarajan, founder of The Wire, for tweeting a news report about claims made by the family of Navreet Singh, the protester who was killed in the violence. On January 30, Delhi police also detained the journalists Dharmender Singh and Mandeep Punia, who were covering the protests, alleging that the two “misbehaved” with the police. While Singh was released the next day, Punia was sent to police custody for 14 days where he was beaten up.

The government’s tendency to stifle dissenting voices has now brought Twitter into a dispute with the government as well. The social media platform held firm when the government ordered that Twitter take down hundreds of accounts that criticized the government for its conduct during the protests. On February 10, Twitter announced in a blog post that it would not take any action on accounts that belonged to journalists, activists, media organizations or politicians, saying that these orders were not consistent with Indian law. Two weeks ago, Twitter had banned several accounts that have been covering the protests and have been critical of the government, including the accounts of Caravan magazine and Kisan Ekta Morcha.

Now, the Delhi police cyber cell has arrested Disha Ravi, a 21 year old climate activist from Bengaluru, India, for sharing a toolkit that Greta Thunberg had tweeted while expressing her support for the farmers. The toolkit included a comprehensive explainer of the protest, list of credible accounts to follow and learn more about the protest from and other vital information for anyone who wanted to express solidarity and learn more.

"We have found that she made several changes in the toolkit related to farmers' protests and further spread it in certain groups on social media,” a senior police officer told the Hindu. Ms. Ravi, on the other hand, said that she had edited only 2 lines and that she was supporting the farmers’ cause. Recently, Delhi police had registered an FIR under Section 124A (sedition), 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) against the people who created and spread the toolkit. Furthermore, a viral video on YouTube called for journalists and activists mentioned in the toolkit to be "hanged to death". While the video was taken down by YouTube for its violent content, it was tweeted out by many BJP leaders and supporters. So far no action has been taken by Twitter or Facebook where the video continues to be circulated.

While the deadlock between the farmers and the Indian government continues, it remains to be seen how far the government is willing to go to discredit its opponents and critics.

-Sanjukta Bose

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