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India Today journalist defends violence by ‘farmer protestors’, lies about farm protest 1.0 too

The panellist continued to claim over 700 farmers died. The contention that 700+ farmers died during farmer protests 1.0 is entirely false and based on dubious data.

On 16th February, India Today’s executive editor, Preeti Choudhary, was seen putting a lot of effort during the “Democratic Newsroom” program to defend violence by the “farmer protestors”. During the program, she lied about the farmer protests 1.0 as well.

Democratic Newsroom is a program where India Today’s reporters and editors join in a debate on a specific topic. On 16th February, they were discussing the farmer protests when Choudhary defended the violence by the “protestors” on 26th January 2021 when they entered Delhi and hoisted alien flags on Red Fort.

She said, “What did they ask for? They asked for access. They asked for access to the Ramlila Maidan. They were not given it. Perhaps Republic Day also happened because you did not allow them access to Ramlila Maidan for a year.” She further claimed that the right to protest is a Fundamental Right and that occupying public spaces is how protests happen in India.

The contention that protesting is a fundamental right is flawed. Articles 12 to 35 in Part III of the Constitution of India deal with the Fundamental Rights given to the country’s citizens. It says, “Right to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association or union, movement, residence, and right to practice any profession or occupation (some of these rights are subject to security of the State, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality).” That means, while you are free to protest, it is subject to the security of the State and public order. Moving around with swords, batons, and pelting stones is NOT a fundamental right.

When Gaurav Sawant, Managing Editor of India Today, pointed out that several incidents during protests were not appropriately reported, she cut her in the middle. She questioned how many farmers died during the protests. The panellist continued to claim over 700 farmers died. The contention that 700+ farmers died during farmer protests 1.0 is entirely false and based on dubious data. In January 2022, OpIndia did a detailed analysis of the list the protesters and opposition leaders used. It was revealed that many of the deaths claimed in the list did not happen in or around the protest sites.

For example, a farmer drowned at his native place but was added to the list just because he joined farmer protests multiple times. Another farmer died while boarding a moving train far from the protest sites. However, his name appeared on the list as well. There were some reports of suicides which needed investigation as there were injury marks on the dead bodies.

When Akshita Nandagopal, Deputy Editor, India Today, mentioned that there were intel notes that suggested that thousands of farmers were planning to march towards Ramlila Maidan and it would have created havoc in the national capital, Choudhary said it was not an intel and farmers asked for permission. Nandagopal countered and asked if it would not have made the problem, to which Choudhary suggested it would not have if they were given Ramlila Maidan to protest. Choudhary’s claims there was not intel was false. Intelligence agencies had warned about modified tractors to be used by protesters. Interestingly, India Today itself covered the intelligence report.

Interestingly, Choudhary completely ignored the fact that the visuals coming from the Haryana borders, where the police stopped the protesters, clearly showed they were equipped with weapons. The so-called protesters mocked the police, challenged them and put up posters of Khalistani terrorist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Furthermore, they used modified tractors and machines to move the barricades; they pelted stones at the police and created tension at the Haryana border. The national capital could have a law and order problem if they entered Delhi.

Not to forget, when the protesters were allowed to take a tractor rally in January 2021 through a pre-decided route, they not only went out of the route but also attacked the police and damaged both public and private properties.

Choudhary also claimed that protesters brought tractors because there was concrete barricading. However, concrete barricading was done after reports that the farmers were getting modified tractors to break the usual traffic barricading.

Interestingly, during farmer protests 1.0, Choudhary had expressed concerns about sexual harassment of female reporters by the protesters. She said on X (then Twitter) that a ‘sizeable chunk of depraves’ are sexually harassing reporters and that others are letting it happen. Detailed report can be checked here.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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