Jaswinder Singh Bains – known internationally as bhangra-rap star Jazzy B – says he was shocked when messages started arriving over the weekend from fans who were unable to see his Twitter account in India.
Then he received an email from Twitter confirming that he had been banned from his home country for allegedly violating the Indian IT Act. He said the email did not provide details about why it was being censored.
Baines, who grew up in Surrey, British Columbia, said after coming to Canada as a child, “I was really shocked. I had no idea – it’s such a shameful thing to do…Everyone has the right to express their opinions.”
Baines says he is convinced the social media shutdown was in response to his outspoken support for Indian farmers who have spent the past six months protesting India’s controversial new agricultural laws.
He says he feels connected to them and spent 25 days among protesting farmers, some in their 70s or 80s, in November and December to “feel their pain.”
It also commemorated the raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, where thousands of Sikhs were killed after it was stormed by Indian government forces in June 1984.
Balpreet Singh, legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization in Canada, says Baines is the latest star to face censorship after criticizing the Indian government. Australian Sikh rapper L-Fresh the Lion has also recently faced restrictions on Twitter.
Singh described Baines’ tweets as “disturbing” to the Indian government “but not criminal or promoting violence – so it is certainly worrying that India has taken this step”.
They are not the only celebrities who have provoked the Indian government.
Pop star Rihanna and young climate activist Greta Thunberg angered the Indian government in February after a tweet supporting farmers protesting against new reforms passed in India last fall.
One tweet from Rihanna on February 2 simply asked “Why don’t we talk about this?” Referring to the Indian government’s move to shut down public access to the internet after protests turned violent during Republic Day celebrations in January.
Rihanna’s tweet, which included the hashtag #FarmersProtest, reached 101 million followers, drawing world attention and the wrath of the Indian government.
Farmers are upset that India has abandoned the system whereby they auction off their crops to a government production commission that guarantees a minimum price.
India argues that the new reforms allow farmers more freedom to sell directly to buyers, other states or to large grocery chains. But many farmers fear that new laws will allow big companies to cut prices.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs says the increased competition in the market can actually boost farmers’ income.
“These reforms give expanded market access and provide greater flexibility to farmers,” the department said in a statement after Rihanna’s tweet.
“Before rushing to comment on such matters, we urge to ascertain the facts… The temptation of hashtags and sensational comments on social media, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.”
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Singh says the backlash to comments on social media is so dramatic in India that it has scared some social media employees.
“It is too bad that Facebook and Twitter employees in India have expressed such fear for their lives that they may be threatened by what is happening on their platforms.”
CBC News asked India’s Consul General in Vancouver, India’s External Affairs Minister Arindam Baghi, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah and Twitter for comment.
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