It took just five days after the rollout of Twitter Spaces for Hindutva activists to call for violence.
On May 8, Swati Goel Sharma, a senior editor with Swarajya, hosted a space titled ‘Oximeters for cows?’. The conversation revolved around Sharma’s for the news website on how a directive by the Uttar Pradesh government on gaushalas “revealed more the hatred that the left-liberals harbour for majority of the country than the love of any government for cows”.
One of the speakers at the event was Sanjeev Newar, a popular name in Twitter’s Hindutva bubble who is followed by prime minister Narendra Modi. Newar has had several bylines on Swarajya over the years and is an associate of Sharma, with whom he runs Sewa Nyaya Utthan, a “welfare initiative”, in their words.
At the event, Newar called for assault and murder of those who crack jokes about cows or gaumutra, meaning cow urine.
He said, “If you ask me, we should pressure the government that anyone who cracks a cow urine joke, the government should give us the freedom to beat them up in self defense. And it is no sin even if he dies because of the beating.”
Newar contended that cracking such jokes “is a sign of terrorism”, since Adil Ahmed Dar, the suicide bomber who carried out the February 2019 Pulwama attack, had “made a cow urine joke”. He added that “cow-related jokes'' should be banned.
Sharma agreed, “Yes, absolutely, instead of citing research on whether there is gold in cow urine…,” she started, before being interrupted by Newar, who claimed that terrorists have two traits, “Raising ‘hum leke rahenge Azadi’ slogans and making jokes on cow, cow urine, cow dung.”
Concluding the conversation a minute later, Sharma said “such jibes” should be seen as “life threats”. “It is a cultural threat right now,” she argued, “but they can metamorphose into life threats.”
The same day, when a Twitter user called out the duo’s meditation on murder, Newar tweeted that he stood by what he said, and that “society must have legal right to act in self defense against such terrorists”. Sharma retweeted the tweet.
That Sharma and Newar have together on mob violence for Swarajya makes their views darkly ironic.
The conversation emerged after a Twitter user, Shameela, tweeted a recording on May 9.
Newslaundry reached out to Sharma and Swarajya to ask about her endorsement of Newar’s incitement to violence.
We asked Sharma what she was agreeing to when she added “yes, absolutely” after Newar’s comment, and what she made of it given her own reportage on vigilante violence, especially lynchings. We also asked her if she had expressed any disagreement with Newar’s homicidal formulation during the conversation or in the month since.
Sharma chose to not respond to the questions, calling the social media uproar over Newar’s incitement to violence a “silly controversy”.
She instead directed us to a “response” in a Twitter thread by Newar posted on Friday midnight.
In the thread, Newar called the uproar a “malicious campaign” where a “tiny clip of my Spaces talk is being wrongly presented as if I am inciting to lynch innocent people if I don't like their joke”.
He added that the “Spaces talk was exclusively about terrorists and fanatic elements” and he meant that “if anyone violates law and makes such jibes, people be enabled to act as per self defense provisions” of the Indian Penal Code.
Newar implied that Sharma had nodded in agreement “only when I said gaumutra jokes should be banned.” Sharma hasn’t claimed so herself, and has regularly tweeted videos of Adil Ahmed Dar, echoing Newar’s justification for assault and murder.
Newar’s response is misleading. A nearly four-minute clip of the May 8 conversation accessed by Newslaundry shows that Newar did not once mention the Indian Penal Code after openly advocating violence.
His caveat that the talk was exclusively about “terrorists and fanatic elements” and not “innocent people” is useless since, in his own words, a terrorist is defined by a particular slogan or a joke.
Swarajya, which espouses “individual freedom” and “separation of religion from politics” as , didn’t respond to our questions. Its editorial director, R Jagannathan, declined to comment on Sharma and Newar’s musings on vigilantism. “I have not seen this because I don’t run the website on a daily basis,” he said. “You talk to the person who runs the website.”
Jagannathan referred us to Amar Govindarajan, publisher and chief digital officer at Swarajya. We wrote to Govindarajan and Prasanna Vishwanathan, the chief executive officer at the news website, but did not receive a response. This report will be updated if a response is received.