India News

Salil Tripathi’s Twitter Account Restored But Free Speech Questions Raised by Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh Remain

Salil Tripathi’s Twitter account, after a two-day suspension, has been restored, but questions of censorship raised by prominent writers, activists and journalists, including Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Nilanjana Roy, and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor remain unanswered as Twitter continues to maintain that Tripathi’s account was suspended over a published list.

Tripathi’s account was initially suspended after he posted a poem on December 6, the day the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. Following backlash for curbing Tripathi’s freedom of expression, a Twitter spokesperson responded to query from a Times of India journalist and said that Tripathi’s account had published a list that violated Twitter’s “abusive behaviour policy.”

Tripathi, who is a contributing editor at Mint and Caravan in India, has been a vocal critic of Hindutva nationalism. His first book Offence: The Hindu Case deals with the rise and implications of Hindutva nationalism on free expression. Tripathi’s Twitter Lists reflect these political leanings, and include accounts like Critically ill Sanghis, Pseudopatriot Fascists, and Sad Sangh Premis.

Tripathi also chairs the PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, which has been campaigning for writers who have been threatened, suppressed or imprisoned for their work. The most famous of these include Wole Soyinka, Vaclav Havel and Salman Rushdie, who have had to weigh their words in the current geopolitical climate.

Responding to Tripathi’s suspension, several writers, activists and journalists said it was “censorship” on Twitter’s part.

Author and journalist Nilanjana Roy said that Tripathi’s post was about a shared anguish.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tripathi responded to messages of support with a tweet calling these journalists “heroes”. “My problem with Twitter is irrelevant compared with what these heroes have endured. You are not insignificant. My battles are,” he wrote.
Twitter has not yet responded to queries about which of Tripathi’s lists provoked the suspension. Twitter, however, sent Times of India a listicle of all the Twitter lists Tripathi is a part of.
Speaking to The Guardian, Tripathi said: “Twitter’s decision-making has been opaque and arbitrary. Twitter is a private space which creates the illusion of being a public space, which it clearly is not, and takes decisions on free speech and human rights that it does not have the mandate, expertise, or capacity for.”
Prior instances of Twitter suspending accounts for posting “objectionable content” include the suspension of Supreme Court lawyer, Sanjay Hegde’s Twitter account in 2019. Hegde’s account was suspended in what he described as “collateral damage” in the “continuous warfare” with the right-wing. Earlier this year, Amnesty India chief Aakar Patel’s Twitter account was also suspended after he posted video clips from protests against George Floyd’s death. In his post, Patel had asked Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, and women to stage a similar protest in India. Patel subsequently received a notice from Twitter, saying it had received “a legal remove demand” on his account.
Meanwhile, an unverified Twitter handle by the name Deshi Army claimed responsibility for the suspension and posted:

Twitter’s policy rules prohibit users from violence and glorification of terrorism/violent extremism, abuse/harassment, hateful conduct, circulating sensitive media, and graphic violence and adult content. Apart from following, sharing, editing and deleting a list, Twitter also gives the user the right to report a list for abusive behaviour.

Born in Mumbai, Salil Tripathi is a journalist based in New York. He is a senior visiting fellow for business and human rights at the Kennedy School, Harvard University, and is also an adviser to several global initiatives involving business and human rights.