India farmers: Misleading content shared about the protests

By Shruti Menon
BBC Reality Check

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image copyrightGetty Images

Farmers in northern India have been demonstrating near the capital, Delhi, against new farming reforms which they believe will endanger their livelihoods.

These protests have prompted a flurry of misinformation online, shared by politicians from across party lines, and by individuals both for and against the farmers.

We've looked into a few of those misleading claims.

Kamala Harris has not publicly backed farmers' protest

A fake screenshot of US vice-president-elect Kamala Harris apparently extending support to the protesting farmers in India has been shared on Facebook.

It shows a tweet - seemingly under her Twitter handle - alongside text which reads: "We are shocked to see the Indian government's suppression of farmers protesting new laws which will endanger their livelihood. Instead of using water cannons and tear gas, the Indian government needs to engage in open dialogue with farmers."

But Facebook has put a warning on the post, stating it has been manipulated.

Ms Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, has not commented on these protests, on either her personal or official Twitter accounts.

Her media team responded to our enquiry about the post with a brief statement, informing us: "Yes, this is fake."

A Canadian MP called Jack Harris (no relation) did tweet in support of the Indian farmers on 27 November. The text in his tweet exactly matches the text in the one falsely attributed to Kamala Harris.

There have been public expressions of concern about the police response to the farmers' protest from Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, where there is a significant Indian population.

Mr Trudeau's remarks were rebuffed by the Indian government, which said they were "ill-informed."

An old image, a different dispute

A Twitter post showing Sikh men opposing changes to the status of Indian-administered Kashmir - seemingly as part of the ongoing farmers' protest - has also been widely shared.

The original tweet has had over 3,000 re-tweets and more than 11,000 likes.

It was re-tweeted by Priti Gandhi, head of social media for the women's cell of the ruling BJP (the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party).

Some comments in reaction to the post claim the farmers' protest is being exploited by groups with other agendas, such as the Kashmir dispute or independence for Sikhs in the state of Punjab.

However, we traced the image back to an August 2019 post on the Facebook page of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a regional political party based in Punjab state.

It was posted by this group last year after the Indian government scrapped partial autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir under article 370 of the Indian constitution. The SAD party - along with other groups in India - opposed this move.

So this particular image is unrelated to the farmers' demonstrations.

Spot the difference

It's not only BJP politicians sharing misleading images.

The Twitter accounts of the Indian Youth Congress and other senior opposition Congress leaders have shared old images (from an October 2018 protest) which show barricades and water cannon used by the police, suggesting they are depictions of the current protests.

One such post says the government is treating the farmers like "terrorists."

Although water cannon and tear gas have been used by the police in recent days, some of these images are not only from a different protest, two years previously - they are also taken in a completely different location.

A reverse image search showed that they relate to a protest by farmers from Uttar Pradesh (UP) state, who marched to Delhi in 2018 in a row over loan waivers and payment of their debts.

Those farmers were stopped in the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border area, east of the capital, whereas the current protesters clashed with the police in Punjab and Haryana, north of Delhi, before carrying on towards the capital.