Jagdish Singh makes a simple distinction between Facebook and Twitter. “I can do a little bakchodi on Twitter because everyone else does it, but not on Facebook. People are in a good mood on Twitter and it’s common,” he said.
But things have changed. The bespectacled sales manager from Chhattisgarh has now protected his Twitter profile; you can’t view his tweets if you do not follow him. And to follow him, you’ll need a personal clearance.
It all started on August 6. Scrolling through his Twitter timeline that day, Singh, 42, came across a tweet by Mohammad Zubair, a fact-checker and the co-founder of Alt News. Zubair had tweeted a fact-check to a tweet by a police officer, under which Singh wrote: “Lavde ka fact-checker”, an abusive epithet used by Hindu nationalist trolls.
“Everyone says these words casually,” Singh said. “I have worked in western Uttar Pradesh. Words like ‘bhenchod’ are a verbal tic there. And not just me but the entire Twitter community calls him a ‘lavde ka fact-checker’.”
Asked to explain the meaning of the cuss word, Singh instead clarified that it was a typo. He meant to write “💖 de ka fact-checker’. “I didn’t want to say it so openly.”
Zubair then tweeted Singh’s Twitter profile picture at the time which showed him standing next to his 10-year-old daughter. “Hello Jagdish Singh, does your cute granddaughter know about your part time job of abusing people on social media?" Zubair wrote. “I suggest you to change your profile pic.”
Though the fact-checker pixelated the minor’s face, he now for allegedly “torturing” and “threatening” her on Twitter. That’s the odd wording used in the complaint submitted to the police by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, or NCPCR.
“If he were in front of me, I would have thrashed him with a shoe,” Singh seethed.
The substance of his outrage is this: how dare Zubair bring his 10-year-old into a Twitter spat?
“He could have cursed me and me alone, but why post a picture of my daughter?” he asked. The pixelated face does not assuage him. “That does not help because people still said vulgar things about my daughter below his tweet. I was in a very bad mood and so I filed the complaint.”
Besides Zubair, two other Twitter users have been named in NCPCR’s complaint – @de_real_mask and @syedsarwar20. Both handles have now been deleted. It is not clear what they had tweeted.
Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha took to Twitter to denounce the FIRs as a bid to “hound” his colleague “through misuse of legal apparatus”.
“Zubair has been in the forefront of fighting fake narratives, and his work hurts those who have weaponized misinformation to subvert the Indian democracy,” Alt News said in a statement on Twitter.
“This person has a history of abusing Zubair,” Sinha told Newslaundry, referring to Singh. “He has called him a ‘jihadi’ and all sort of things in the past.” Sinha is right. A Twitter search does reveal vile jabs that Singh has taken at Zubair.
Asked about these tweets, Singh reiterated his defense: “When I sit with friends, we use expletives. Bhenchod, bhosdike, lavde ke baal – ye sab toh chalta hai. I did not know Zubair would take it to heart.”
But is Zubair his friend? In an email Singh sent to the NCPCR on August 7, he called the fact-checker a supporter of the “tukde tukde gang and urban naxal gang”.
In a tweet addressed to NCPCR chief Priyank Kanoongo on September 7, Sinha posted a few more tweets by Singh, where he made creepy remarks on activist Shehla Rashid and actor-turned-politician Divya Spandana. “Here's a preview into the vulgar mindset of this person. Is the establishment a voice for such people now?” Sinha asked.
Asked about these tweets, Singh said, “If you consider the context, I had written them on a lighter note. And only very few of my tweets were like that. They’re also two or three years old. A person’s mindset changes with time.”
So, had his mindset changed now? Singh did not answer directly. “I joined Twitter in 2017 and I didn’t know what to post back then,” he said.
On September 6, the Times of India reported that Zubair had been “”. I asked Sinha about the usage of ‘doxing’. “It’s absolutely inaccurate. Doxing means revealing personal information that is not in public domain. Zubair has not revealed anything that is not in the public domain,” he explained.
But Jagdish Singh has a greater grouse. “When he posted the picture with my daughter, people made vulgar comments. Even under Pratik Sinha’s tweet, people were sharing my address. These two don’t have to do the deed, but only a nudge from them unleashes their followers. I feel unsafe now. What if something happens to me?” Singh asked.
Although Newslaundry couldn’t find tweets sharing Singh’s address, we conveyed these concerns to Sinha. “If there are people who are abusing this person’s child then direct the action against them, not against Zubair. The primary reason why they are directing it against Zubair is because he is associated with Alt News and the kind of work he does,” he said.
Alt News has faced legal notices for defamation before, but this is the first time that an employee has been named in an FIR. Sinha said his colleague had not been handed a copy of the FIR by the Delhi police, strengthening his belief that the entire case was “one-sided” and that the state wants to “fix” Zubair.
“The NCPCR did not once contact Zubair for his side. His lawyers wrote to them in August saying that Zubair had not received a showcause notice before the FIR was filed. The legal representative at NCPCR said that as of September, they had only summoned a representative from Twitter. They said they would summon Zubair when they had to, and yet, without that, they publicised the FIR.”
Throughout my conversation with Singh, he stressed that he was not associated with the BJP, that he even watched Ravish Kumar’s NDTV show and read Alt News.
“You can say I am a Hindu and believe in Hindu ideology. That’s it,” he said.
But is it possible, as Sinha suggested, that his complaint is being used to hound critics of the Narendra Modi regime? “People can say what they want. I won’t comment on that.”
Then he commented on it. “I have criticised Yogi Adityanath and even PM Modi. So that question does not arise. My question is this: even if he blurred my daughter’s face, why on earth did he post it?”
In the past month alone, have been raped and murdered in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri. In June, seven girls in a were found pregnant – a story that died quickly. But thanks to the NCPCR’s resolve, we will now have an investigation into a dubious complaint by a seasoned Twitter troll. The accused here is a journalist who has consistently busted misinformation emanating from the Modi regime and its supporters. The NCPCR’s concerns about child rights, thus, seem to be an innocent cover for designs that seem more sinister.
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