Gurpreet Singh: India’s censoring of Jazzy B Twitter account is more than an assault on free expression

It sends a message that dissent will not be tolerated by the state

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      The world’s so-called largest democracy is once again back in the news and not for the right reason.

      This time, the Indian government has blocked the Twitter account of Punjabi Canadian rapper Jazzy B, from Surrey. As a result, his followers in India won’t be able to see his tweets.

      This is linked to his support for the ongoing farmers’ agitation in that country. Indian farmers have been protesting against controversial farm laws passed by the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP government.

      They believe that these laws are going to harm their livelihood. In addition, they think they have been adopted without transparency and consultation, only to benefit big corporates seeking to increase their control on the agro-industry.

      Right at the start of the struggle, Indian police used high-handed methods to suppress the agitation. Meanwhile, the pro-establishment media tried to portray the farmers as subversives, especially the Sikh cultivators from Punjab, which witnessed an insurgency for Khalistan—a separate Sikh homeland. The media coverage was clearly aimed at discrediting a peaceful movement, which has already lasted six months and resulted in close to 500 deaths.

      Jazzy B, being a Sikh and being from a farming family, was among those deeply disturbed by these events. He not only showed his solidarity through tweets, he also visited the agitating farmers camping near New Delhi last winter and spent several days with them.

      Apart from that, Jazzy B probably made the Indian government upset by commemorating the anniversary of the infamous military invasion on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in June 1984. The ill-conceived army operation that was aimed to deal with handful of militants left scores of innocent pilgrims dead and historical buildings inside heavily damaged.

      This outraged Sikhs across the globe. This was done to polarize the Hindu majority to win the impending general election. The BJP, which was in the opposition back then, celebrated the bloody event.

      Whatever may be the provocation, the blocking of Jazzy B’s account is not just an attack on free expression, it is more than that. It is a clear message to those who refuse to comply with the will of the outright Hindu majoritarian regime in New Delhi.

      Whereas Jazzy B and others like him are promptly blocked for questioning the power and status quo in India, those spreading hatred and spewing venom against Muslims and other minority communities face no such challenge.

      An example is a twitter handle of a BJP supporter who shamelessly describes himself as “anti Muslim” in his profile information. How can India, a supposedly secular state, digest that? The rules cannot be applied selectively.

      The trend is no different than the way Indian police go after minority groups and political dissidents while conveniently ignoring the nefarious activities of the Hindu fanatics often patronized by the current government. It is high time that either the Indian state gives equal space to everyone, including its political opponents, or just take off its mask of democracy and declare itself officially as a totalitarian Hindu nation.

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India. This article is based on a talk he gave at the Squamish Rotary Club. He's the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.