New Delhi- On the night of January 16, social media enthusiasts were disheartened as they found another account, this time the famous research project titled ‘Hindutva Watch’, withheld. The account has a history of documenting hate speech and abuse against the religious minorities in the nation and keeps a tab on persecution of individuals based on the Hindutva ideology.
Raqib Hameed Naik, a journalist and the founder of Hindutva Watch, used X (formerly Twitter) to share news of the organization's social media account being banned in India. In a post on the platform, he stated, "Update from Hindutva Watch. Today, our @X account was withheld in India following a legal demand from the Government of India. Three hours after the withholding of our account, we received an email from X notifying us of this action."
He further claimed, “While shocking, it's not surprising, considering Prime Minister Modi regime's history of suppressing free press & critical voices. This won't deter us! We remain committed! The suppression of our account in India only fuels our determination to continue our work undeterred.”
The Mooknayak had reached out to both Naik and the official handle of the organization for a comment. The founder, in response to our query, remarked, “Blocking our account in India is part of ruling party’s larger campaign to suppress press and the free flow of information. This move has, infact, also affected police in various states that used to rely on our tracking and reporting to take action in cases of hate crimes and hate speeches within their jurisdiction. The government’s intent seems clear. They want to invisibilise the scale of ongoing cycle of hate and violence against religious minorities in the country.”
X communicated to the concerned group via an email that it had undertaken a specific course of action following the reception of a legal removal demand from the government of India. According to information provided to ‘Hindutva Watch’, the government's directive alleged a violation of the Information Technology Act, 2000 by the account in question. Notably, Section 69A of this Act empowers the central government to issue requests for the removal of content, citing reasons such as the protection of national integrity and security, as well as the maintenance of friendly relations with foreign states, among other grounds. This legal framework outlines the basis on which the government can make content removal requests from platforms like X, and in this instance, it prompted the social media giant to take action in compliance with the government's demand.
What is ‘Hindutva Watch’?
According to the official website, Hindutva Watch is an independent research initiative to monitor the reports of attacks on the members of minority and marginalised communities for their faith by the radicalised Hindus and the Hindutva militia groups in India.
The organization focuses on documenting incidents, advocating for community rights, promoting transparency through accurate data on religious persecution, raising public awareness, collaborating with human rights organizations, and fostering dialogue. The initiative aims to contribute to a more inclusive and tolerant society by actively engaging with various aspects of the complex socioreligious landscape in India.
Not the First Case- ‘X’ Has a History of Banning Such Accounts:
This is not an isolated incident as X has blocked or suspended accounts that have been critical of the central government before, according to a report published in The Guardian. The same article alleged accusations have surfaced against X for allegedly succumbing to government pressure in India, resulting in the suspension of numerous prominent figures, including journalists, politicians, and activists, over the past few years.
In April 2023, the Indian government, following an internet shutdown in Punjab during the pursuit of a Sikh separatist leader, issued directives to X demanding the removal of certain individuals. The social media platform, in compliance with these notices, proceeded to block over 120 accounts, encompassing figures such as Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh, poet Rupi Kaur, several journalists, an Indian MP, and even the BBC Punjabi bureau's handle.
India, the third-largest market for X after the United States and Japan, presents significant challenges for the social media platform. In the face of growing governmental pressure, social media platforms, were viewed as some of the last avenues for Indian citizens to express dissent, especially as mainstream media outlets largely portrayed the government’s point of views.
In July of 2021, X had taken legal action against the Indian government over takedown orders. This move came after the government introduced legislation in that year with the aim of regulating various forms of digital content, covering online news, social media, and streaming platforms. The legislation granted the government the authority to remove content it deemed "objectionable."
Freedom House, a non-profit organization based in the United States, has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of steering India towards authoritarianism. In 2021, Freedom House downgraded India's status from 'free' to 'partly free.'