India blocks Canadian bhangra star Jazzy B's Twitter account after he supports farm protests

·3 min read
Jaswinder Singh Bains of Surrey, B.C. — centre, in the green vest — also known as rapper Jazzy B says he was blocked from Twitter in India because of his outspoken support of farmers protesting controversial new agricultural laws in India. (Submitted by Jaswinder Singh Bains - image credit)
Jaswinder Singh Bains of Surrey, B.C. — centre, in the green vest — also known as rapper Jazzy B says he was blocked from Twitter in India because of his outspoken support of farmers protesting controversial new agricultural laws in India. (Submitted by Jaswinder Singh Bains - image credit)

Jaswinder Singh Bains — known internationally as bhangra star Jazzy B — says he was shocked when messages began coming in over the weekend from fans who couldn't see his Twitter account in India.

Then he got an email from Twitter confirming that he'd been blocked from his home country for allegedly violating India's Information Technology Act. He said the email offered no details about why he was censored.

"I was really shocked. I had no idea — It's a shameful thing to do … everybody has the right to speak their mind," said Bains, who grew up in Surrey, B.C., after coming to Canada as a child.

Bains says he's convinced the social media shutdown is in response to his outspoken support of Indian farmers who have spent the past six months protesting controversial new agricultural laws in India.

He says he feels a connection to them and spent 25 days living among protesting farmers, some in their 70s or 80s, in November and December to "feel their pain."

He also commemorated the raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, where it's estimated thousands of Sikhs died after Indian government troops stormed it in June 1984.

Bains is seen with an agricultural worker during his visit to India in late 2020.
Bains is seen with an agricultural worker during his visit to India in late 2020.(Submitted by Jaswinder Singh Bains)

'Disturbing' censorship

Balpreet Singh, legal counsel with the World Sikh Organization of Canada, says Bains is just the latest star to face censorship after criticising the Indian government. Australian Sikh rapper L-Fresh the Lion has also faced recent Twitter restrictions.

Singh described Bains's tweets as "irksome" to the Indian government "but not criminal or promoting violence — so it's certainly disturbing that India has taken this step."

They're not the only celebrities to provoke the Indian government.

Pop superstar Rihanna and teen climate activist Greta Thunberg angered the Indian government in February after both tweeted support for farmers protesting new reforms passed in India last fall.

A single tweet from Rihanna on Feb. 2 simply asked "Why aren't we talking about this?" in reference to the Indian government's move to shut off public internet access after protests turned violent during Republic Day celebrations in January.

Rihanna's tweet, which included the hashtag #FarmersProtest, went out to her 101 million followers, attracting both world attention and the ire of the Indian government.

The farmers are upset India has done away with the system under which they sold their crops at auction to a state produce committee which guaranteed a minimum price.

India argues the new reforms allow farmers more freedom to sell directly to buyers, other states or large grocery chains. But many farmers fear the new laws will allow big companies to drive down prices.

India's Ministry of External Affairs says increased market competition could actually boost farmers' income.

"These reforms give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers," the ministry said in a statement after Rhianna's tweet.

"Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained …The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible."

Singh says the backlash over social media commentary is so incendiary in India that it's frightened some social media staffers.

"It's so bad that Facebook and Twitter employees in India have expressed fear for their lives that they may be threatened because of what's happening on their platforms."

CBC News has asked the Indian consul general in Vancouver, the Indian Minister of External Affairs Arindam Bagshi, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah and Twitter for comment.