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Growing support in B.C. for farmers in India, amid continued censorship concerns

A protest took place outside Facebook offices in downtown Vancouver on Sunday.
A protest took place outside Facebook offices in downtown Vancouver on Sunday. Our Avaaz

Some of B.C.’s most powerful unions are throwing their support behind protesters in India amid growing concerns about censorship of the social media movement in solidarity with those farmers.

The B.C. Federation of Labour (BCFED) has planned a car rally and protest for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Surrey at Nordel Way and Scott Road.

“Everyone’s physical distancing and we’re asking people to drive by, honk, whatever people feel comfortable with to show these workers some solidarity,” BCFED secretary-treasurer Sussane Skidmore said.

Click to play video: 'B.C. labour group throws its support behind protesting farmers in India' B.C. labour group throws its support behind protesting farmers in India
B.C. labour group throws its support behind protesting farmers in India – Dec 22, 2020

“Without farmers, there is no food and part of the work we do in the labour movement is we support workers when they are dealing with negotiations and having trouble dealing with negotiations and of course international solidarity is incredibly important and worker solidarity doesn’t just stop at our borders.”

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Skidmore said there are some parallels to be drawn between the farmers’ movement in India and the labour movement in B.C.

“We have ongoing issues with migrant workers here in British Columbia and across the country… we know there’s pay rate issues, we know that there are issues around safety for them in… housing situations… with access to health care and… there is a lot of work to do here and this is just another way for us to show solidarity with those workers,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Claims of ‘shadow banning’ and censorship of the India farmers protest online' Claims of ‘shadow banning’ and censorship of the India farmers protest online
Claims of ‘shadow banning’ and censorship of the India farmers protest online – Dec 18, 2020

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union has also expressed support for protesting farmers in India.

“We echo the calls to stop the corporate takeover of India’s agricultural sector and to immediately release all political prisoners, including union members, arrested for protesting these draconian laws,” the BCGEU said in a statement.

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Tuesday’s rally comes two days after hundreds of people took part in a socially distant car caravan and protest outside Facebook offices in downtown Vancouver.

Read more: Online censorship claims shadow Indian farmer solidarity protests

Our Avaaz is one of several groups speaking out against online censorship, called shadow banning, which has impacted other major movements including Black Lives Matter.

In multiple cases, during key moments during the farmers’ solidarity movement, hashtags like #Sikh and #tiktok have been flooded with pornographic material, which is flagged and then restricted, hindering the ability to get the message about the farmers’ movement, out to the world.

New allegations include removal of a prominent Facebook page titled Kisan Ekta Morcha, which drew massive outrage. The social media giant restored the page and apologized for service disruptions, saying they were not due to shadow banning.

Facebook has denied allegations it’s silencing voices in the Sikh community and colluding with the censorship of the social media campaigns in support of protesting farmers in India.

Click to play video: 'As farmers in India intensify their protests so do local demonstrators in support of their cause' As farmers in India intensify their protests so do local demonstrators in support of their cause
As farmers in India intensify their protests so do local demonstrators in support of their cause – Dec 18, 2020

The company has said it’s working to ensure the shadow banning problem with the hashtags created to allow people to come together and share with each other, doesn’t persist.

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The company has review systems in place and while some believe content gets flagged at times when it shouldn’t, slipping through the cracks of otherwise robust review systems, others believe the company has reason to be siding with groups or individuals who want to suppress the farmers’ awareness campaigns.

Farmers’ unions in India have been fighting the three contentious agricultural bills enacted in September that aim to deregulate the sector.

Critics have warned scrapping what is known as a guaranteed minimum support price, often compared to a minimum wage, for crops and scrapping the government liaison role between distributors and farmers could jeopardize food security and farmers’ livelihoods.

Read more: ‘If we don’t come back, remember we fought:’ India’s farmers remain resolute after failed talks

Hundreds of thousands of farmers, including the elderly, marched long distances to the Indian capital of New Delhi where they have remained camped out for more than three weeks.

Protesters have rejected government offers to amend the bills in question and written assurances of a minimum support price, and say they are prepared to stay until the laws are repealed.

The brute force the farmers have been met with has drawn international condemnation. India’s Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the farmers’ right to protest and suggested the government delay the laws in question.

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Read more: India’s top court suggests government delay farm laws at heart of protests

Activists and labour groups across B.C. have since joined millions around the world standing in solidarity with the farmers and their right to peacefully protest.

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