Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking website AltNews was arrested on Monday for a tweet in March 2018 and was charged with section 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot) and section 295 (deliberate and malicious act intended to hurt religious feelings and beliefs). Zubair had shared an image from Hrishikesh Mukherjee's movie 'Kissi Se Na Kehna' which showed a hotel signboard that read 'Hanuman Hotel', but paint marks suggest it was earlier called 'Honeymoon Hotel'. Zubair’s tweet was seen as a dig at the BJP which came to power in 2014.
The Delhi police have found the tweet offensive, but ironically, the same shot has been cleared by the censor board of the movie it was shown. Also, the photo has featured in several national dailies in March 2018 and has been tweeted across social media platforms. Back then, there have been no such reactions from any quarters.
Digging into the past and picking a tweet that dates four years back is a clear indication of vendetta politics. Zubair has been labelled as ‘anti-Hindu’ after he brought Nupur Sharma’s controversial comments about Prophet Mohammed on social media. It is unfortunate laws are being used as tools of convenience to selectively target individuals. It is sad, that a deliberate attempt is being made to target even journalists, especially those who take a contrarian view and those who are in criticism of the powers that be. This arrest once again highlights the government’s intolerance of dissent.
Arbitrary arrests of activists are now becoming a trend in India and the action against Zubair stems from his work as fact-checker tracking disinformation and false propaganda. Religion is being used as a tool to suppress voices and intimidate selective people, because, in a state like India, religious emotion works when everything else fails.
The problem here is that the government is choosing its targets very selectively. In a democracy, laws are for everyone, but it depends on which side of the fence one is. Those owing allegiance to the powers that be are privileged to get an exemption to spreading religious hatred or inciting violence, and have conveniently managed to keep away from the long arm of law. The latest was the sensational Nupur Sharma comment on Prophet Mohammed that triggered worldwide outrage and violence forcing the BJP to strip her of her positions in the party. Why was Nupur allowed to go scot-free?
Cut into Goa, and the pattern of selective targeting based on religion is as clearly visible as in the other parts of the country. Lately, we see religious conversions turning out to be political discourse, but those publicly spewing hatred against religion and Gods are allowed to go scot-free, without a word of caution or censure.
Fighting religiophobia cannot be selective in a country that has people of diverse faiths and beliefs. The Mohammed Zubair arrest is nothing but an attempt to silence a fact-checker who has stood tall in times of political falsehood and disinformation.