Nearly two months ago, when Punjab’s farmers first started protesting against the new farm laws, they didn’t receive much attention from the mainstream media. So, their young men and women took it upon themselves to spread the word. As the farmers intensified the protests, arriving on Delhi’s borders after braving police batons and barricades, their social media warriors ramped up the messaging. They have done well, considering the protests have come to dominate the social media discourse in recent days.
Newslaundry spoke with some of them at the Singhu border, the focal point of the protests, to get a sense of what drives them, and what they seek to achieve through social media activism.
Pridyun Singh, 25, from Ludhiana, arrived at Singhu on November 30. In the last few days, he has been busy debunking the narrative, , that the protests have been incited by Khalistani separatists. “This entire hoopla is manufactured by the Godi Media. Our ancestors sacrificed for this nation, how can we even ask for Khalistan?” he asked. “They are blindfolded with saffron cloth, they won’t be able to see anything. To counter them, we used simple hashtags #savefarmers and #nohatred."
Ranveer Singh, a young farmer also from Ludhiana, has been sharing live visuals of the protests on Facebook and Instagram. “Assi tractor chalande chalando, Twitter chalane lag gye,” he said. “I operated a tractor and now I have to operate Twitter as well.”
Their social media messaging, Ranveer said, was meant to counter “Godi Media”, which has been “showing the farmers in poor light”. “If it’s a TV channel such as Aaj Tak or Zee News and it’s a journalist based in Mumbai covering us, we will be made into caricatures,” he explained. “Only NDTV shows accurate news.”
“Zee News was trying to portray us as Khalistan supporters. Do we look like troublemakers? We effectively thwarted their attempts to malign our struggle. We boycotted such news outlets and tweeted at them with #Godimedia and #Gobackgodimedia,” remarked Lucky, 22, from Tarn Taran.
Their youth on social media are also countering fake news, Ranveer added, and sharing facts with families and friends to ensure they don’t fall prey to misinformation and “faulty narratives”.
“My friend Muskan has over 15,000 followers on Instagram and she often shares fact-checks. There are platforms like the Wire and Alt News which share credible information and we share their posts on social media,” said Hasanpreet Singh, 23, from Chandigarh.
He added, “Social media helped us gain attention nationally, even internationally. My friends in Kolkata, Pune had no idea about our struggle. They were unaware about what was happening, and it worried me. So, I started sharing posts on social media and requested my foreign friends to share them as well. Our fight is not restricted to the roads, it is an intellectual war. That’s why we have to strive against these policies on social media too.”
At the same time, they are using social media to identify troublemakers amongst them, said Jasjeet Singh, 25, from Ludhiana, who joined the protest on November 30. “My friends shared a video of a guy who was carrying stones with him. Sharing such stuff makes the people aware of any fringe elements,” he added by way of an example.
Protesting farmers at the Singhu border.
After the protests started in Punjab, Bhavjeet Singh, 38, a techie from Ludhiana, got together with a few friends to create a Twitter account . The aim was to launch a campaign to encourage young men and men in Punjab to join the social media platform and use it to support the protests.
“In our country the narrative is set either by primetime television or by Twitter trends. As we all know, TV news has no interest in covering the problems of common people such as farmers and migrants. So, we are amplifying their voices with the help of hashtags,” Bhavjeet explained.
It’s a tough fight, he added, since they are seeking to wrest the narrative from the social media machine that is the BJP’s IT Cell. But they aren’t cowed. “They have bigger teams and more resources than us but our collective actions have cornered them into taking defensive positions. Yesterday, they started trending that the protest was hijacked, but we countered it. We have 40-50 volunteers working with us in a team but it is not possible to trend a hashtag with just 50 people. This means the masses are using it now.”
Sandeep Singh, freelance journalist based in Punjab, has noticed a number of new accounts coming up on Punjabi Twitter to support the farmers. “Twitter is dominated by the BJP’s IT Cell. But new Twitter accounts are coming up to support the farmers and counter the IT Cell. If you go and check the comments on the ongoing fight between Kangana Ranaut and Diljit Dosanjh, you will find numerous accounts with names referring to kisan, farmer and suchlike.”
He was referring to the Twitter spat between the actors Kangana Ranaut and Diljit Dosanjh. Ranaut had disparaged an elderly woman protestor, Dosanjh called her out, and a heated exchange ensued.
Pictures by Amit Pandey.