Social media platforms are crucial tools for communication, activism, and information dissemination in the digital era. However, political pressures can lead to the suppression of dissenting voices, as seen in India's current situation.
Despite being the world's most populous and self-proclaimed democratic nation, India ranks at 150 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, falling from its low of 142 the year before. The index highlights the increasing levels of censorship, intimidation, and violence that journalists face in the country. India has witnessed a significant decline in press freedom, with a growing number of journalists being targeted and harassed for their honest reporting.
The Indian government has been targeting the Sikh identity by imposing strict measures in the state of Punjab. The government has also utilized every power possible to silence Sikh voices, not just on the ground in Punjab, but also in the digital space. Social media giants, such as Meta and Twitter, have been complacent in silencing minority voices on their platforms, including those of Sikhs. According to a 2020 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Indian government has consistently pressured Meta to remove or restrict content related to various minority communities, effectively silencing dissenting voices. In November 2021, the Indian government passed the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, which gave the government broad powers to censor content on social media platforms. These rules require platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to remove any content that the government deems "unlawful" or "against the interests of the country."
The Lumen Database, which serves as a repository of information on legal requests for the removal of online content from various online platforms, recently received a legal request from India to Twitter to withhold accounts and posts on their platform. The request included a document that listed over 500 links to profiles, tweets, and images that were to be withheld in India. Twitter later complied, and all these listed accounts saw their content restricted and censored. This included the accounts of prominent Sikh political leaders and organizations such as Harpreet Singh, Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib, who had their tweets restricted and censored as well. The SGPC, which serves as the central Sikh Gurdwara Committee, saw their tweet restricted after they requested the aid of the Punjab police on Twitter. A tweet which exhibited no signs of policy infringement or general misconduct. The clear bias and censoring of SIkh voices extends past the common user and showcases the general disregard towards the Sikh community.
On the ground India has not been slow to act in silencing voices, with India having the 12th most imprisoned journalists, and appearing on the CPJ Global Impunity Index every year since its conception in 2008. India has also murdered 91 journalists and media workers between 1992 and 2023. So what democracy is India practicing?
India's censorship of dissenting voices, particularly those of minority communities like the Sikhs, is a grave threat to freedom of expression and human rights. The digital censorship, coupled with other forms of silencing implemented by the Indian Government, is a clear violation of press freedom and undermines the democratic values that any practicing democracy must hold. As our world becomes more interconnected, the suppression of minority voices in any part of the globe has far-reaching consequences, perpetuating social injustices and fuelling extremism. Social media platforms must take responsibility for their role in enabling such censorship and ensure that their platforms are not used to suppress dissenting voices. Failure to do so would be a betrayal of their stated commitment to promoting free expression and human rights. It is time for India and social media platforms to prioritize the protection of minority voices and uphold the fundamental right to free expression for all.