As the death toll in India continues to rise, the Indian government orders critical social media posts of the country’s Covid crisis to be taken down.
Amid a devastating second wave of COVID-19 sweeping across India and a perilously low oxygen supply, many are taking to social media to demand that the government handle the crisis better.
This prompted India’s government to order numerous posts critical of its handling of the pandemic and calling for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resign, to be taken down – creating therefore a clash over free speech.
India is meant to be the world’s biggest democracy, in fact its constitution protects people’s right to freedom of speech – with some exceptions such as when it comes to content it deems defamatory.
Despite this, under Modi’s government, India expanded its internet regulation laws, giving it more power to censor and surveil its citizens online.
People are now asking one question. With India facing such unprecedented times, does the government truly and only cares about its image?
WHAT CAUSED INDIA’S COVID CRISIS
“Modi leads India out of a lockdown and into a Covid apocalypse,” said a recent headline in the UK Sunday Times.
Just a few months ago, politicians were on the campaign trail, schools were open and people were dancing at weddings and such devastation would have been hard to imagine.
Now the country’s health system is on the brink of collapse. Bodies burning on mass funeral pyres, hospitals packed beyond capacity and running out of oxygen supplies, beds and ventilators have become the norm recently.
After the first COVID-19 wave the country seemed to have beaten back the virus, in fact India was recording less cases than Germany or France, considering the country is 18 times larger.
Modi had declared victory and gave permission to the country to return to business as usual, despite public health officials having given signs of trouble.
Because of this, elections rallies drawing huge crowds, and religious festivals were taking place in early April. When cases started to increase, the Indian government was downplaying the severity of the situation.
In fact, a senior official from India’s federal government had told reporters there was no shortage of oxygen in the country.
Denying that, just a few miles away, hospitals were sending out desperate messages of them running out of oxygen. Yet, Piyush Goyal, a senior official from India’s home ministry said: “We are only facing problems in its transportation.”
One Indian journalist admitted, “as a country and as a state, we declared victory too soon, we were complacent, we were callous, we were ignorant, and we were casual.”
COVID CRISIS – DELETING POSTS AND THE SILENCE OF BOLLYWOOD CELEBRITIES
Facebook confirmed it had temporarily blocked posts containing a #ResignModi hashtag, which was trending just a few weeks ago in the midst of India’s Covid crisis.
The hashtag has since been restored and Facebook declined to comment on how many takedown requests it had received from the Indian government.
Only a few days ago, the founder of non- profit aid and relief organisation Khalsa Aid, Ravi Singh had his Facebook account suspended.
Though his account has now been restored, the same did not happen with journalist Amaan Bali who still has his Twitter account suspended.
They both provide essential journalism and have been targeted by the Indian government trying to censor Sikh activists.
Social media users did not take this well and one person commented saying: “Social media is cooling off the society by selectively removing bold writers. There is no protection of freedom of speech anymore, only protection of profits.”
Another user commented: “Modi isn’t capable of helping his citizens but creating roadblocks for people who are trying to save their lives. This is just insane.”
People in India are also wondering why all Indian celebrities are in silence during the Covid crisis and why have they not yet commented on the country facing this unprecedented challenge.
One person tweeted: “They all know what’s going on however choose to remain silent. Silent while the people who made them famous are dying.
“All the people that supported them and bought tickets for their movies. Just think how much they could help if they wanted to, but instead they choose to keep posting pictures of themselves flaunting their lifestyle while the country is burning.”
Another user said: “Bollywood actors would probably skip the line to hospital treatment to save their life. While families are out in the streets dying on lack of oxygen and lack of treatment. Shame Bollywood.”
The whole world is watching, will Modi be able to clear up his mess? And how many more people will India’s Prime Minister try to silence in the process?