NEW DELHI: Indian farmers protesting against new laws brought in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government have started running their own media to counter the ruling party’s narrative, which they say is discrediting their struggle.
Farmers from agriculture-dependent states have been protesting for months to demand that the government repeal three farm acts passed in September that they say would leave them at the mercy of corporations and stop the government buying crops at guaranteed prices.
Modi on Friday said that the protests were motivated by political opponents seeking to “spread myths and lies” about the contentious farm laws.
However, the protesters accused the government of spreading a false narrative to discredit them.
“Just to propagate our struggles, issues and to counter the propaganda of the government and its agencies on the issues that affect farmers, we have decided to have our own social media site, YouTube channel and newspaper,” Darshan Pal, of the Revolutionary Farmers’ Union, told Arab News.
“The government is diverting attention and telling lies to the people that farmers are becoming more self-sufficient through reforms,” he said.
Baljit Singh, who runs Kisan Ekta Morch (Farmers’ Union platform) on social media, said they have been telling people their story to “debunk” the narrative by government-supporting media since the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) started posting “fake videos and news” to discredit the farmers’ movement.
“They started posting videos from the UK to brand us as members of the separatist Khalistani group. Some news also tries to portray us as radical communist sympathizers,” said the 30-year-old farmer and vice president of the Punjab Farmers’ Struggle Committee.
“We have 2.5 million subscribers on our social media and are reaching out to at least 50 million people through these platforms.”
On Dec. 18, protesting farmers also started Trolly Times, a biweekly and bilingual newspaper.
“The idea came to mind, why not tell the farmers’ stories ourselves through our own newspaper?” the newspaper’s founder, Gurdeep Singh Dhaliwal, told Arab News.
“The government and its media partners are spreading false information and painting us as unruly and disruptive. The newspaper is an attempt to counter the false narrative,” the 27-year-old digital photographer said.
Two pages of the newspaper appear in Punjabi and two in Hindi. About 5,000 copies are printed.
“The farmers’ protest is an important movement and we need to reach out to large sections of the people across the world,” Inderjeet Singh, of the Punjab Farmers’ Struggle Committee, said.
“A section of the media is not playing its role and either carrying half-truths or no truth at all,” he said.
Political observers say that the mainstream media is protecting the government.
“The media has been showing videos and stories that portray farmers as rich and their demands as unjustified,” New Delhi-based political analyst Nilanjan Mukhupadhyay told Arab News.
“There is a strong section of the mainstream media that considers anything opposed to the government as opposed to the country.”