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Victims of Vilification 2021

Professionals, students, politicians and activists were attacked, trolled, sued, even jailed… simply for doing their duty, and for speaking up for victims

Karuna John 24 Dec 2021

Vilification

Journalists, citizen activists, artists, lawyers, politicians, were subjected to targeted attacks, law suits, jail, online vilification. Here are some who were most isolated, and targeted.

Ehtesham Hashmi: Delhi based Advocate Ehtesham Hashmi led  Lawyers For Democracy, a coalition of law practitioners, on a fact finding mission to Tripura after the communal riots broke out in October 2021. Soon after their report was released, Hashmi and his colleague Amit Srivastav, were booked by the Tripura Police booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for allegedly sharing fake information, on social media. The group of lawyers had, visited the violence hit areas of Tripura, investigated and spoke to survivors of the Anti-muslim violence. The report was released simultaneously in Agartala and in New Delhi on November 1. Two days later, on November 3, Tripura Police sent notices under UAPA to the lawyers. Tripura Police charged them under Indian Penal Code Sections 153-A and B (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc), 469 (forgery for purpose of harming information), 503 (criminal intimidation), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke the breach of peace) and 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy). Eventually, Supreme Court of India had ordered that “no coercive steps be taken” against them and issued a notice to the Central and Tripura governments on a plea for an investigation by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the incidents of violence in Tripura against the Muslim community. 

Shyam Meera Singh: The journalist was terminated from his job by news channel Aaj Tak (India Today Group) for writing two tweets about Prime Minister Modi, in July 2021. He was accused of allegedly violating the media house’s social media and code of conduct policies, which do not allow employees only “to use social media for news that has been published or aired by the system and not for personal views.” In November Shyam Meera Singh had written a social media post about the Tripura violence, “Tripura is burning,” and the Government of Tripura police booked him under the draconian anti-terror law Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).  Eventually the Supreme Court of India ordered that “no coercive steps should be taken” against Singh.

Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha: Reporters Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha who work at the digital news portal HW News were covering the communal violence in Tripura, and were detained in Assam after a case was filed against them by the Tripura police for "spreading communal disharmony". Citizens for Justice and Peace, with its wide network of rights activists in the state, assisted in legal aid for the duo. Bail to the two female journalists was granted, on a bail bond of Rs 75,000 each. The journalists then challenged the police action in the Supreme Court, adding that the FIRs amounted to "targeted harassment of the press". The SC has stayed further proceedings in FIRs against journalists Samridhi Sakunia, Swarna Jha, and their colleague Arti Ghargi.

Munawar Faruqui: The stand-up satirist Munawar Faruqui’s charity show for the late actor Puneeth Rajkumar’s foundation scheduled to be held on Sunday November 28 could have been a comeback like no other. Bengaluru, would have probably given him a standing ovation. However, it became the 12th show to be axed, “Nafrat jeet hai, Artist haar gaya. (sic) Im done! Goodbye! INJUSTICE”, Munawar Faruqi had shared an emotional note after the show was cancelled because the authorities feared ‘law and order’ problems. Munawar Faruqui’s livelihood has taken a beating this year. Bajrang Dal members travelled from Gujarat to Mumbai to threaten venue owners against hosting Faruqui’s scheduled stand-up comedy shows in October. Faruqui was arrested earlier this year on charges of hurting religious sentiments at a show in Indore, based on a complaint filed by Eklavya Singh Gaur, chief of Hindutva organisation Hind Rakshak Sangathan. The audience’s retelling of the incident indicated that the joke was never told in the first place and Faruqui was incarcerated without cause! After over a month of being incarcerated, Faruqui was granted ad-interim bail by the Supreme Court on February 5.

Vir Das: A slew of police complaints were lodged against satirist Vir Das accusing him of ‘maligning India’s image’ via a monologue titled “I come from two Indias”, that he performed recently at the John F Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Complaints accused Das of allegedly using derogatory statements against women and India in the said monologue, a video of which was uploaded to YouTube by Das. The first complaint was filed in Mumbai by Advocate Ashutosh Dubey who identifies himself as a legal advisor of Bharatiya Janata Party-Maharashtra Palghar District. He accused Das of “defaming & spoiling the image of India in the USA, which is inflammatory”, and filed the complaint against him with the Mumbai Police. 

Sabbah Haji: Educationist Sabbah Haji  was popular on social media for sharing updates about the Haji Public School, in Breswana that is located at an altitude of 8,483 ft. Over the years, she has shared photos of students, many first-generation learners, and of volunteers who come from across the country to reach the school after a seven kilometre-long trek or on horseback. Recently, Sabbah Haji, who has been the face of the school and helped make it popular worldwide, was in the news after there were demands for her arrest for a social media post where she allegedly referred to the recently deceased General Bipin Rawat as a “war criminal”. She was arrested and later granted bail by the Executive Magistrate Doda in December.

Vamika Kohli: Actor Anushka Sharma and Cricketer Virat Kohli’s  infant daughter Vamika Kohli was threatened with rape by Twitter account user in India named “@Criccrazyygirl”. The account was deleted after users called it out for its abusive threat to an infant, and the identity of the person who tweeted the rape threat is still not known. The user demanded that Sharma and Kohli share a photo of the toddler, and followed it with a rape threat. Virat Kohli has been facing massive trolling ever since he condemned the abuse teammate  Mohammad Shami was facing. He had said, "To me attacking someone over their religion is the most pathetic thing a human being can do. Everyone has the right to voice their opinion, but I personally have never even thought of discriminating against someone over their religion." Soon enough, Virat Kohli, as expected, got his share of hate from right-wing trolls.

Mohammad Shami: The sole Muslim member of the Indian cricket team was the target of massive verbal and emotional abuse after Team India lost to Pakistan recently. As a Muslim, Mohammad Shami was accused of ‘selling out’ to a Muslim dominated team at T20 World Cup 2021 Super 12 match against Pakistan in Dubai.  As soon as team India was defeated by Pakistan in the final, Hindutva trolls were out in droves to hurl a volley of abuse at Mohammad Shami.

Akbar Lashkar: The journalist works for the Kolkata-based Bengali news portal Ab Tak Khabar and had gone to Tripura from Kolkata to report news developments. However, a mob beat him up mercilessly with sticks, a wounded Akbar Lashkar, 27, told mediapersons, “Look how they have beaten me, cracked my skull. I don't know if I will survive, democracy has vanished.” Lashkar was among the three journalists who were allegedly beaten up in Tripura while reporting outside a police station, allegedly by “a group of nearly 200 people, many wearing helmets and carrying hockey sticks, rods and laathis.

Anirban Roy Choudhury: The editor of Barak Bulletin, has been accused of Sedition and an FIR has been registered U/S 153 - A, 124 -A, 501 and 505 of Indian Penal Code, for an editorial published on November 28. “They have accused me of questioning the independence of the judiciary, and that I tried to disturb relations between Assamese and Bengali and that I spoke against the police. They cite ‘independence’. This independence is also my birthright, this is my country as much as theirs, I am as independent as them,” said Anirban Roy Choudhury, a co-founder and editor of Barak Bulletin, a hyper local news portal in Assam’s Barak valley, adding the “FIR has been registered by the police U/S 153 - A, 124 -A, 501 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code for publishing an article on Barak Bulletin, a hyperlocal portal that I co-own.”

Disha Ravi: Climate activist Disha Ravi was arrested by Delhi Police on February 13, in Bengaluru and brought to Delhi in the infamous ‘toolkit case’. However, it eventually was reported that she may have been incarcerated for nothing. The case received much media attention as the ‘toolkit case’ during the farmers' protests. Disha remained in jail for a period of 10 days before she was granted bail by a Delhi court which observed that police action against her was based on ‘scanty and sketchy’ evidence. Disha had been booked for sedition as well as criminal conspiracy as the police had alleged that the ‘toolkit’ was edited by Disha along with advocate Nikita Jacob and engineer Shantanu Muluk having connections with a ‘pro-Khalistani’ organisation called Poetic Justice Foundation. The FIR lodged by Delhi Police against the creators of the toolkit, it was alleged that its contents made it evident that the January 26 “violence” in Delhi during a tractor rally by farmers was a “pre-planned conspiracy” aimed at attacking India’s “sovereignty” and “security”.

Aashna Lidder:  Barely 17-years-old, Aashna Lidder had just attended the last rites if her father Brigadier Lakhwinder Singh Lidder, who was the defense advisor to CDS General Bipin Rawat and was traveling with him on the helicopter that crashed in Tamil Nadu. However, a group aligned to right-wing ideologies began spewing hate against the teenager digging out old tweets they claimed were posted by Aashna Lidder and started taunting her as ‘woke’ because she had reportedly ‘liked’ many tweets of Congress and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Some others began sharing screenshots of old tweets purportedly by Lidder where she expressed opinion on the state of Uttar Pradesh and fuelled a chat about how “military kids can end being woke”. The twitter account was soon deleted.

Dr. Udit Raj: Dalit rights activist Dr. Udit Raj, who quit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and joined the Congress, where he is now a National Spokesperson, is not new to being targeted. An Ex-IRS officer, who quit his government job to devote more time as an activist, and later as a politician, he has regularly been targeted online with  racist, anti-Dalit social media posts and has received threats on a regular basis. “I am the most hated person by the RSS-BJP. You can see a two-year war against me on social media, and even a media boycott,” Raj told SabrangIndia. His words rile up the right-wing trolls, and puts him on their “list” of people to vilify especially online, with the BJP, he said, “They have conducted twitter trends against me two three times, they have put up hoardings against me in Narela area,” adding such threats were just the tip of the abuse iceberg.

Salman Khurshid: The veteran politician’s Nainital home was vandalised on, November 15, after the launch of his book Sunrise Over Ayodhya: Nationhood in Our Times, where he draws a parallel between extremists from different religions. Sharing images of the vandalised area of his home Salman Khurshid told the media that the attack proves what he wrote in his book, “They were carrying flags and posters. In the book, I had said that such thoughts and beliefs are wrong, even more wrong if it misuses religion. On one hand there are the Hindutva groups, and globally there are Boko Haram and ISIS who do this.” Affiliates of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hit out at Khurshid for hurting sentiments of Hindus, and accused the Congress "communal politics" to woo Muslim votes.

Asaduddin Owaisi: The official New Delhi residence of Asaduddin Owaisi,  All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president and Hyderabad MP was attacked, allegedly by right wing affiliated vandals, claiming to belong to “Hindu Sena”. They called Owaisi “Jihadi” and said they attacked his house to “teach him a lesson”. According to news reports, the accused also allegedly assaulted Owaisi's aide Raju, who was at the venue. Delhi Police have detained five members of the right-wing organisation Hindu Sena for their alleged involvement in the incident.

Priyanka Gandhi: Uttar Pradesh police and administration detained Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress national general secretary, well before dawn around 4.30 A.M on October 4. Purportedly held under Section 151 of the CrPC, while travelling within the district of Sitapur, approximately 20 km from Lakhimpur Kheri which was under Section 144 -- reportedly Section 144 had not been imposed in Sitapur -- she was not allowed to move out of the guest house till late October 6. She was ‘arrested’ later. Her vehicle had only four or five people, including Congress spokesman Deepinder Hooda. She was not allowed access to a lawyer, not produced within 24 hours before a court. The video of the arrest went viral along with Priyanka's angry response, she was shown sweeping the dust-strewn room too. A ‘Priyanka masterpiece’ was the video she addressed to the prime minister.

 

Related:

A 2020 report on Victims of Vilification: Anti-CAA protesters in Uttar Pradesh 

A 2020 Report of 10 Worst Victims of apathy: Dalits, Adivasis

A 2020 Report of 10 Worst Victims of Apathy: India’s Migrant Workers

 

Victims of Vilification 2021

Professionals, students, politicians and activists were attacked, trolled, sued, even jailed… simply for doing their duty, and for speaking up for victims

Vilification

Journalists, citizen activists, artists, lawyers, politicians, were subjected to targeted attacks, law suits, jail, online vilification. Here are some who were most isolated, and targeted.

Ehtesham Hashmi: Delhi based Advocate Ehtesham Hashmi led  Lawyers For Democracy, a coalition of law practitioners, on a fact finding mission to Tripura after the communal riots broke out in October 2021. Soon after their report was released, Hashmi and his colleague Amit Srivastav, were booked by the Tripura Police booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for allegedly sharing fake information, on social media. The group of lawyers had, visited the violence hit areas of Tripura, investigated and spoke to survivors of the Anti-muslim violence. The report was released simultaneously in Agartala and in New Delhi on November 1. Two days later, on November 3, Tripura Police sent notices under UAPA to the lawyers. Tripura Police charged them under Indian Penal Code Sections 153-A and B (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc), 469 (forgery for purpose of harming information), 503 (criminal intimidation), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke the breach of peace) and 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy). Eventually, Supreme Court of India had ordered that “no coercive steps be taken” against them and issued a notice to the Central and Tripura governments on a plea for an investigation by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the incidents of violence in Tripura against the Muslim community. 

Shyam Meera Singh: The journalist was terminated from his job by news channel Aaj Tak (India Today Group) for writing two tweets about Prime Minister Modi, in July 2021. He was accused of allegedly violating the media house’s social media and code of conduct policies, which do not allow employees only “to use social media for news that has been published or aired by the system and not for personal views.” In November Shyam Meera Singh had written a social media post about the Tripura violence, “Tripura is burning,” and the Government of Tripura police booked him under the draconian anti-terror law Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).  Eventually the Supreme Court of India ordered that “no coercive steps should be taken” against Singh.

Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha: Reporters Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha who work at the digital news portal HW News were covering the communal violence in Tripura, and were detained in Assam after a case was filed against them by the Tripura police for "spreading communal disharmony". Citizens for Justice and Peace, with its wide network of rights activists in the state, assisted in legal aid for the duo. Bail to the two female journalists was granted, on a bail bond of Rs 75,000 each. The journalists then challenged the police action in the Supreme Court, adding that the FIRs amounted to "targeted harassment of the press". The SC has stayed further proceedings in FIRs against journalists Samridhi Sakunia, Swarna Jha, and their colleague Arti Ghargi.

Munawar Faruqui: The stand-up satirist Munawar Faruqui’s charity show for the late actor Puneeth Rajkumar’s foundation scheduled to be held on Sunday November 28 could have been a comeback like no other. Bengaluru, would have probably given him a standing ovation. However, it became the 12th show to be axed, “Nafrat jeet hai, Artist haar gaya. (sic) Im done! Goodbye! INJUSTICE”, Munawar Faruqi had shared an emotional note after the show was cancelled because the authorities feared ‘law and order’ problems. Munawar Faruqui’s livelihood has taken a beating this year. Bajrang Dal members travelled from Gujarat to Mumbai to threaten venue owners against hosting Faruqui’s scheduled stand-up comedy shows in October. Faruqui was arrested earlier this year on charges of hurting religious sentiments at a show in Indore, based on a complaint filed by Eklavya Singh Gaur, chief of Hindutva organisation Hind Rakshak Sangathan. The audience’s retelling of the incident indicated that the joke was never told in the first place and Faruqui was incarcerated without cause! After over a month of being incarcerated, Faruqui was granted ad-interim bail by the Supreme Court on February 5.

Vir Das: A slew of police complaints were lodged against satirist Vir Das accusing him of ‘maligning India’s image’ via a monologue titled “I come from two Indias”, that he performed recently at the John F Kennedy Center in Washington DC. Complaints accused Das of allegedly using derogatory statements against women and India in the said monologue, a video of which was uploaded to YouTube by Das. The first complaint was filed in Mumbai by Advocate Ashutosh Dubey who identifies himself as a legal advisor of Bharatiya Janata Party-Maharashtra Palghar District. He accused Das of “defaming & spoiling the image of India in the USA, which is inflammatory”, and filed the complaint against him with the Mumbai Police. 

Sabbah Haji: Educationist Sabbah Haji  was popular on social media for sharing updates about the Haji Public School, in Breswana that is located at an altitude of 8,483 ft. Over the years, she has shared photos of students, many first-generation learners, and of volunteers who come from across the country to reach the school after a seven kilometre-long trek or on horseback. Recently, Sabbah Haji, who has been the face of the school and helped make it popular worldwide, was in the news after there were demands for her arrest for a social media post where she allegedly referred to the recently deceased General Bipin Rawat as a “war criminal”. She was arrested and later granted bail by the Executive Magistrate Doda in December.

Vamika Kohli: Actor Anushka Sharma and Cricketer Virat Kohli’s  infant daughter Vamika Kohli was threatened with rape by Twitter account user in India named “@Criccrazyygirl”. The account was deleted after users called it out for its abusive threat to an infant, and the identity of the person who tweeted the rape threat is still not known. The user demanded that Sharma and Kohli share a photo of the toddler, and followed it with a rape threat. Virat Kohli has been facing massive trolling ever since he condemned the abuse teammate  Mohammad Shami was facing. He had said, "To me attacking someone over their religion is the most pathetic thing a human being can do. Everyone has the right to voice their opinion, but I personally have never even thought of discriminating against someone over their religion." Soon enough, Virat Kohli, as expected, got his share of hate from right-wing trolls.

Mohammad Shami: The sole Muslim member of the Indian cricket team was the target of massive verbal and emotional abuse after Team India lost to Pakistan recently. As a Muslim, Mohammad Shami was accused of ‘selling out’ to a Muslim dominated team at T20 World Cup 2021 Super 12 match against Pakistan in Dubai.  As soon as team India was defeated by Pakistan in the final, Hindutva trolls were out in droves to hurl a volley of abuse at Mohammad Shami.

Akbar Lashkar: The journalist works for the Kolkata-based Bengali news portal Ab Tak Khabar and had gone to Tripura from Kolkata to report news developments. However, a mob beat him up mercilessly with sticks, a wounded Akbar Lashkar, 27, told mediapersons, “Look how they have beaten me, cracked my skull. I don't know if I will survive, democracy has vanished.” Lashkar was among the three journalists who were allegedly beaten up in Tripura while reporting outside a police station, allegedly by “a group of nearly 200 people, many wearing helmets and carrying hockey sticks, rods and laathis.

Anirban Roy Choudhury: The editor of Barak Bulletin, has been accused of Sedition and an FIR has been registered U/S 153 - A, 124 -A, 501 and 505 of Indian Penal Code, for an editorial published on November 28. “They have accused me of questioning the independence of the judiciary, and that I tried to disturb relations between Assamese and Bengali and that I spoke against the police. They cite ‘independence’. This independence is also my birthright, this is my country as much as theirs, I am as independent as them,” said Anirban Roy Choudhury, a co-founder and editor of Barak Bulletin, a hyper local news portal in Assam’s Barak valley, adding the “FIR has been registered by the police U/S 153 - A, 124 -A, 501 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code for publishing an article on Barak Bulletin, a hyperlocal portal that I co-own.”

Disha Ravi: Climate activist Disha Ravi was arrested by Delhi Police on February 13, in Bengaluru and brought to Delhi in the infamous ‘toolkit case’. However, it eventually was reported that she may have been incarcerated for nothing. The case received much media attention as the ‘toolkit case’ during the farmers' protests. Disha remained in jail for a period of 10 days before she was granted bail by a Delhi court which observed that police action against her was based on ‘scanty and sketchy’ evidence. Disha had been booked for sedition as well as criminal conspiracy as the police had alleged that the ‘toolkit’ was edited by Disha along with advocate Nikita Jacob and engineer Shantanu Muluk having connections with a ‘pro-Khalistani’ organisation called Poetic Justice Foundation. The FIR lodged by Delhi Police against the creators of the toolkit, it was alleged that its contents made it evident that the January 26 “violence” in Delhi during a tractor rally by farmers was a “pre-planned conspiracy” aimed at attacking India’s “sovereignty” and “security”.

Aashna Lidder:  Barely 17-years-old, Aashna Lidder had just attended the last rites if her father Brigadier Lakhwinder Singh Lidder, who was the defense advisor to CDS General Bipin Rawat and was traveling with him on the helicopter that crashed in Tamil Nadu. However, a group aligned to right-wing ideologies began spewing hate against the teenager digging out old tweets they claimed were posted by Aashna Lidder and started taunting her as ‘woke’ because she had reportedly ‘liked’ many tweets of Congress and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Some others began sharing screenshots of old tweets purportedly by Lidder where she expressed opinion on the state of Uttar Pradesh and fuelled a chat about how “military kids can end being woke”. The twitter account was soon deleted.

Dr. Udit Raj: Dalit rights activist Dr. Udit Raj, who quit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and joined the Congress, where he is now a National Spokesperson, is not new to being targeted. An Ex-IRS officer, who quit his government job to devote more time as an activist, and later as a politician, he has regularly been targeted online with  racist, anti-Dalit social media posts and has received threats on a regular basis. “I am the most hated person by the RSS-BJP. You can see a two-year war against me on social media, and even a media boycott,” Raj told SabrangIndia. His words rile up the right-wing trolls, and puts him on their “list” of people to vilify especially online, with the BJP, he said, “They have conducted twitter trends against me two three times, they have put up hoardings against me in Narela area,” adding such threats were just the tip of the abuse iceberg.

Salman Khurshid: The veteran politician’s Nainital home was vandalised on, November 15, after the launch of his book Sunrise Over Ayodhya: Nationhood in Our Times, where he draws a parallel between extremists from different religions. Sharing images of the vandalised area of his home Salman Khurshid told the media that the attack proves what he wrote in his book, “They were carrying flags and posters. In the book, I had said that such thoughts and beliefs are wrong, even more wrong if it misuses religion. On one hand there are the Hindutva groups, and globally there are Boko Haram and ISIS who do this.” Affiliates of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hit out at Khurshid for hurting sentiments of Hindus, and accused the Congress "communal politics" to woo Muslim votes.

Asaduddin Owaisi: The official New Delhi residence of Asaduddin Owaisi,  All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president and Hyderabad MP was attacked, allegedly by right wing affiliated vandals, claiming to belong to “Hindu Sena”. They called Owaisi “Jihadi” and said they attacked his house to “teach him a lesson”. According to news reports, the accused also allegedly assaulted Owaisi's aide Raju, who was at the venue. Delhi Police have detained five members of the right-wing organisation Hindu Sena for their alleged involvement in the incident.

Priyanka Gandhi: Uttar Pradesh police and administration detained Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress national general secretary, well before dawn around 4.30 A.M on October 4. Purportedly held under Section 151 of the CrPC, while travelling within the district of Sitapur, approximately 20 km from Lakhimpur Kheri which was under Section 144 -- reportedly Section 144 had not been imposed in Sitapur -- she was not allowed to move out of the guest house till late October 6. She was ‘arrested’ later. Her vehicle had only four or five people, including Congress spokesman Deepinder Hooda. She was not allowed access to a lawyer, not produced within 24 hours before a court. The video of the arrest went viral along with Priyanka's angry response, she was shown sweeping the dust-strewn room too. A ‘Priyanka masterpiece’ was the video she addressed to the prime minister.

 

Related:

A 2020 report on Victims of Vilification: Anti-CAA protesters in Uttar Pradesh 

A 2020 Report of 10 Worst Victims of apathy: Dalits, Adivasis

A 2020 Report of 10 Worst Victims of Apathy: India’s Migrant Workers

 

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