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India blocks Canadian bhangra-rap star Jazzy B’s Twitter account after he supports farm protests

Surrey’s Jaswinder Singh Bains — known internationally as Jazzy B — says he was shocked when messages began coming in over the past 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 after coming to Canada as a child.

Jazzy B is convinced the social media shutdown is in response to his critical voice. He’s been outspoken in support of Indian farmers who have spent the past six month protesting controversial new agricultural laws in India.

Jazzy B is seen here with an older agricultural worker in India where he spent 25 days living with protesters in November and December of 2020 to show his support for them. (Jazzy B)

Bains says he feels a connection to the farmers and spent 25 days living among protesting farmers, some in their 70s or 80s, in November and December near the Kundli border to “feel their pain.”

Sikh group says Indian Twitter censorship ‘disturbing’

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

Balpreet Singh, legal counsel with the World Sikh Organization of Canada, says Jazzy B 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 Jazzy B’s critical Tweets as “irksome” to the Indian government.

“But not criminal or promoting violence — so it’s certainly disturbing that India has taken this step,” said Singh.

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.

Rihanna’s tweet which included the hashtag #FarmersProtest went out to her 101-million followers and attracted 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 … 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.”

Jazzy B has started a hashtag campaign to try to get his Twitter account restored in India. (Jazzy B)

Singh said 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 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.

Artist Jazzy B says he spent 25 days living on the Indian border in November and December of 2020 to show his support for farmers protesting new agricultural laws. (Jazzy B/Twitter)

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