On J-POD, a podcast on journalists and journalism, Aakar Patel, columnist and former journalist who headed Amnesty International, discusses what he makes of Twitter withholding his account, and who he suspects might be behind it—and why.
# Twitter emailed me that they had received a “legal removal demand” from the government, that my account violates the laws of India. I went to their help centre who said you are logged in and your a/c is neither blocked nor inaccessible. It’s a bit Kafkaesque because it is blocked only in a particular domain, not globally.
# I don’t know on what basis it has been done or why. I presume it was a follow-up to a FIR that was filed in Bangalore on June 5. The police had taken offence to a retweet 2-3 days before, of a protest in the US where there were thousands of people on the ground for several minutes, saying ‘I can’t breathe’. I had added the comment this was the sort of protest we should see more of in our country, and especially from underprivileged and marginalised, and I named Dalits, Muslims, adivasis and the poor.
# The police had filed the FIR of their own volition. There was no complainant. It has been filed in my local police station and it carried the name of my father which very few people know.
# My speculation is that it upset a lot of people who support the Union government. The government in Karnataka is interested enough in such things. There was no reason for it to be narrowed down in the way it was, for it to be registered where i live and to have details only a few people in government might know because of my filings. I suspect that it is the BJP at the Centre.
# The antipathy that the state in India generally speaking and the BJP specifically have towards rights organisations runs very strong. They will squeeze you by way of the law, and if they can’t they will use brute force. Is what is happening on Twitter an extension of that, probably not. But then this is speculation.
# The government tends to concentrate its force on individuals and groups, who represent almost a enemy, whether in media, business, or civil society. If you are identified as being somebody who disapproves of and wants to resist the majoritarianism of the ruling party, then you are a target and marked.
# Twitter may have threaded the needle, that the content of my handle was in fact not provocative and left it open outside. They thought it prudent to follow the law in India, I don’t know what law it is, and do something. The only other possibility is that they have been pressured into doing this, which would be quite wrong, I think.
# Twitter hasn’t followed due process, which they should have. I have been vilified, in the sense that for thousands of people who are on Twitter, the presumption is that I have done something wrong. I may have done something wrong but I should be told what it is.
# For several years, and it goes back before this government, we have been at the bottom of the media freedom index. One reason is the deliberate denial of access to the internet to citizens in large parts of the country. No other democratic nation has as many internet shutdowns and cuts in the mass sense as we do.
# The freedoms enshrined in the constitution should not be undermined so often and so egregiously. On Article 19 (1) (a) we seem to have inverted the principles. The fundamental right has become subject to so many qualifications that the right has become meaningless.
# I found it strange that they chose this because it doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that will go anywhere. But that’s the way the BJP functions that they tend not to be focused on the quality of content; it’s punishment they will try to inflict in terms of the process and part of that is stripping you of your Twitter handle.
# This government is extremely selective, very nasty and goes after people it deems as its enemies and its opponents, but will not use the law on people when it is rightful to use the law on people who are its supporters. It will violate the law, it will violate the Constitution to protect who indulge in and instigate violent crime merely because they are on their side. This government that does that, all the time.