Protests in India have been occurring for months, regarding three farm acts passed by the Indian Parliament in September. Although the government maintains that the laws will change farming for the better, many disagree; the laws minimize the government’s role in farming, thus leaving them vulnerable for corporations to control prices.
Therefore, protests, especially in the state of Punjab, have been taking place for months in order to get these acts repealed and so that there are protections put in place for farmers. However, the Indian government has not responded favorably, its actions questioned by organizations such as the United Nations as well as Human Rights Watch.
Last week, the Indian government shut down the internet in the state of Haryana due to the protests. As of Monday, Feb. 1, the internet still had not been restored. Some argue that these shutdowns are for public safety reasons; however, the shutdown raises numerous questions.
India has had a history of shutting down the internet during protests; in fact, it is the “global leader” in internet shutdowns. Shutting down the internet has many consequences, with one of the most prominent being that it limits the spread of information.
In late 2019, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Acts, due to the protests that occurred afterward, India shut down the internet in Kashmir. United Nations experts expressed concerns regarding this shutdown, saying this shutdown would exacerbate tensions in the area rather than ease them. A study from the Stanford Global Digital Policy Incubator also found that internet shutdowns are counterproductive, and violence increases in areas where the government has shut down the internet.
Shutting down the internet during protests is hypocritical and should not be an option. The Indian government should not shut down the internet in certain regions in hopes that protests will just stop.
Due to the protests, police have also arrested multiple journalists covering the protests. According to the Human Rights Watch, the journalists have been charged with “sedition, promoting communal disharmony and making statements prejudicial to national integration.”
Part of the reason why some of these journalists have been arrested is due to violence that broke out on Jan. 26, where one farmer died and hundreds were injured. Journalists reported that the police allegedly shot the famer — which the police deny. Due to these reports, the journalists were arrested.
Many condemned the arrest of these journalists, saying that this is a form of stifling the media. However, there are many who have sided with the government that is currently spreading misinformation on social media, misattributing the causes of these protests. Some of these people have also shifted the focus from the peaceful protests — which make up the majority of the protests — to the violence that occurred on Jan. 26.
The Indian government is censoring individuals fighting for their rights. The farming laws passed are problematic and the government should review and revise them rather than shutting off the internet and imprisoning journalists.
Especially given that India prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy, the actions taken against these civilians are concerning and horrifying. Part of democracy is listening to the dissent of individuals, and the Indian government is clearly not doing this. India’s actions in cutting off the internet and arresting journalists should gain more attention — it is a violation of human rights, and the world should be watching.