Jaswinder Singh Baines, known worldwide for the bhangra rap star Jazzy B, says he was shocked when messages from fans started coming in over the weekend who hadn’t seen his Twitter account in India.
He then received an email from Twitter confirming that he had been blocked from entering his home country for allegedly violating India’s Information Technology Law. He said the email did not detail why he was censored.
“I was really shocked. I had no idea – it’s shameful … everyone has the right to express their opinion, ”said Baines, who grew up in Surrey, British Columbia after he came to Canada as a child.
Baines is convinced that the shutdown of social media is in response to his outspoken support of Indian farmers who have protested controversial new agricultural laws in India over the past six months.
He says he feels a connection with them and spent 25 days living with protesting farmers, some of whom were 70 or 80 years old, in November and December to “feel their pain.”
He also paid tribute to the attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, where an estimated thousands of Sikhs died after being stormed by Indian government forces in June 1984.
Balpreet Singh, legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, says Baines is simply the latest star to face censorship after criticizing the Indian government. Australian Sikh rapper L-Fresh the Lion has also faced recent restrictions on Twitter.
Singh called Baines’ tweets “tiresome” for the Indian government, “but not criminal or violent, so it is certainly worrying that India has taken this step.”
They are not the only celebrities provoking the Indian government.
Popular superstar Rihanna and teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg angered the Indian government in February after both tweeted supporting farmers protesting India’s new reforms last fall.
The only tweet from Rihanna on February 2 simply asked, “Why aren’t we talking about this?” in connection with the Indian government’s decision to shut down public Internet access after protests escalated into violence during the Republic Day celebrations in January.
Rihanna’s tweet with the hashtag #FarmersProtest was addressed to her 101 million followers, drawing both global attention and the ire of the Indian government.
Farmers are unhappy that India has abandoned a system in which they auctioned their crops to a state production committee that guaranteed a minimum price.
India says the new reforms give farmers more freedom to sell directly to buyers, other states or large grocery chains. But many farmers fear the new laws will allow large companies to cut prices.
India’s Foreign Ministry says increased market competition can actually increase farmers’ incomes.
“These reforms expand market access and provide farmers with more flexibility,” the ministry said in a statement following a tweet from Rihanna.
“Before rushing to comment on such issues, we strongly recommend establishing the facts … The lure of sensational hashtags and comments on social media, especially when used by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible.”
Singh says the reaction to comments on social media in India is so instigating that it scared some social media workers.
“It’s so bad that Facebook and Twitter employees in India are expressing fears for their lives that they might be threatened because of what is happening on their platforms.”
CBC News was asked to comment on the situation from the Indian Consul General in Vancouver, Indian Foreign Minister Arindam Bagshi, Indian Interior Minister Amit Shah and on Twitter.