A day after an FIR was filed against Barkha Dutt’s Mojo Story and seven other Twitter handles, the media platform is yet to receive a copy. “They refused to hand us a copy of the FIR saying itni jaldi kya hai?” Barkha said. “We are trying to source the FIR at the local level the moment we have it we will seek judicial intervention.”
The police in Unnao, where the FIR was filed, claimed that these Twitter handles had spread false information about the death of two Dalit girls there. On February 17, three girls from the same family, aged 13, 16, and 17, were found unconscious in a field where they had gone to collect fodder. The police have said the girls were poisoned by a man and his 15-year-old accomplice from a nearby village whom they have arrested. Two of the girls were confirmed dead by a local doctor, and the third is battling for life in a Kanpur hospital.
According to the police, the eight Twitter handles named in the FIR claimed that the girls had been raped, a claim not supported by the postmortem report, and that the two dead girls were cremated without the consent of their families.
DIGIPUB News India Foundation, an association of digital news organisations, condemned the registration of the FIR against Mojo Story, calling it a “clear and deliberate attempt at muzzling journalists and keeping them from doing their jobs”. Mojo Story is not part of the association.
Speaking to Newslaundry about the sequence of events that led to the FIR against her platform, Barkha said they had received information from their stringer on the ground. “He told our social media team that he had spoken to the family who told him the police were putting pressure on them to do the last rites but the family wanted to wait to do it the next day,” she said. “So this was tweeted by our social media team from the Mojo Twitter handle.”
The Unnao police quickly responded to the tweet saying it was not true.
Barkha continued, “Since we did not have any primary corroboration at the time the social media team thought they had got it wrong and they deleted it. After that I sent my colleague Muskan Nagpal to cover the story herself and not depend on a stringer. She then met the brother of one of the women who said on camera that the police were forcing them to do the last rites much earlier. He told us that police even got the JCBs organized but they sent them away.”
Once they got this byte on camera, Mojo Story went ahead with the story, including both the family's allegations as well as the police's denial. “This is both sides of the story and that’s how we continue to report the story,” Barkha said.
She was shocked to be clubbed with seven other Twitter handles in the FIR since her portal had not said anything about sexaual assault or rape. She clarified that at no point did her outlet report that the cremation had actually taken place, only that the family was resisting the police wanting early last rites, which is what they have recorded on camera.
She maintained that they had done nothing wrong and that if a mistake had been made she would be the first to admit it. In a she said, “In Hathras you barricaded the media, here you slap us with a jailable FIR for reporting what the families of two young murdered Dalit women said. We will NOT be silenced.”