A friend in the police department apologetically texted me with some “friendly” advice. “Don’t be extra active on social media over corona issues which may lead to panic and rumours. There may be legal issues over it,” he said.
He wouldn’t elaborate further, but it didn’t take much to understand. A freelance journalist was arrested in Andaman and Nicobar Islands for a tweet on a bizarre quarantine rule. At least 13 people from various walks of life have been arrested since 1 April in Manipur for Facebook posts. A doctor at a government hospital had been harassed by the police and questioned for 16 hours at a police station after he put up a Facebook post complaining about the lack of protection gear for doctors. A founder of an online publication was arrested in Tamil Nadu for reports on problems faced by government healthcare workers. In Chhattisgarh, a journalist was slapped with a notice threatening arrest for his report on the plight of women in lockdown.
The pandemic has given the government free rein. India is witnessing very high levels of suppression of free speech and media censorship across the country.
“Everything is censored,” said a Kolkata-based journalist, declining to be identified. “You cannot report on anything that is not confirmed by the government. Getting data on anything is an ordeal.”