In April 2020, the News18 website published an article that fact-checked being used as Islamophobic propaganda. A year and seven months later, News18’s sister channel, News18 India, featured some of the same videos in a news debate – only this time, they were being used to justify bigotry in a programme about “thook jihad” by television anchor Aman Chopra.
If you’re not familiar with Chopra’s distinctive brand of h̶a̶t̶e̶ ̶m̶o̶n̶g̶e̶r̶i̶n̶g̶, journalism, then you may think Chopra’s show was a civic-minded campaign against spitting in public. Those better acquainted with his oeuvre would probably have guessed “thook jihad” had an anti-Muslim angle. If you figured out just by looking at “thook jihad” that the show would present an exposé of a dastardly Muslim conspiracy involving saliva, then you’ve been spending way too much time on WhatsApp. (Kindly consider .)
That the last option is correct tells you all you need to know about the journalistic integrity of many of our mainstream Hindi news channels. Ironically for a show that makes Indian journalism look like a joke, Chopra’s program is called “Desh Nahin Jhukne Denge” (We Will Not Let the Country Lower Itself).
Officially titled “Khane mein thookna, jihad ya jahalat?” (Spitting in food, jihad or barbarism?), the episode of Chopra’s show from November 16, 2021, devoted an entire hour of News18 India’s airtime to discuss the “issue” of how Indian Muslims are allegedly spitting into food (news flash: they’re not).
Accompanying Chopra on his spitshow were , and former Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Upadhyay, who is best known for organising the public meeting in Delhi in August this year where .
Technically speaking, Chopra’s panel also had Maulana Alimuddin Asaadi and political analyst Masood Hashmi. If he’d instead placed two punching bags in their seats, you wouldn’t know the difference.
The show began with an opening monologue in which Chopra stressed that the topic of discussion is not a “dharm ka mudda”, or matter of religion, but a “swacchata ka mudda”, matter of cleanliness. It ended with Chopra wondering whether the secret of the vigour with which his Muslim panelists defended “thook jihad” was the thook, or saliva, in question.
Sandwiched between such philosophical musings was a spectacular display of anti-Muslim prejudice by Chopra and the three Hindu hardliners on the panel. Their diatribes covered a range of topics, including
one Afzal Khan (who may or may not be the same Afzal Khan whom Shivaji defeated in 1659, and allegedly had 63 wives),
a Bollywood actor (possibly Aamir Khan),
how Muslims have cornered everything from agriculture to dairy in western Uttar Pradesh (UP),
and the invigorating properties of saliva which makes Muslims a danger to the unsuspecting (read: Hindu) public.
Right up there with the mystery of the Bermuda triangle is the question of how Chopra’s show could be aired as a news programme. Especially since a basic Google search on the videos Chopras showed as evidence would have thrown up links that establish them as fake news. Links to articles like the one News18 had carried in April last year.
“Khane mein thookna, jihad ya jahalat?” aired on News18 India, on November 16, 2021. We’d share the YouTube link – most of News18 India’s programmes are on their channel – but the day after it was aired, at around 2 pm, the video was taken offline. We can say this with conviction because at precisely that time, on November 17, 2021, we’d watched seven minutes and 57 seconds of the “debate” on YouTube when suddenly, the video became unavailable.
Yes, videos claiming India didn’t get independence in 1947 but signed a 99-year lease with the United Kingdom are still on YouTube; but not Chopra’s show. Is this because “Khane mein thookna, jihad ya jahalat?” violated even YouTube’s barely-there standards of factual accuracy and decency? Or because someone in News18 India woke up to the fact that aside from platforming bigotry, Chopra’s show had shared false information and fake news? To quote The X Files, the truth is out there.
What is also out there is Chopra’s entire show. If you have the Tata Sky app, the programme will be available for the next five days. It’s highly recommended for anyone who is curious to know how it feels to have your brain explode. For those not interested in that particular kind of masochism, allow us to give you a not-so-brief summary of what transpired on Chopra’s show.
The premise of “Khane mein thookna, jihad ya jahalat?”, which went with the hashtag #ThookJihad, is that there is video “evidence” that some people are spitting on food. By a curious coinkidink, all the spitters in the featured videos were Muslim. It was as though globs of spit have never made their way past Hindu lips.
In the course of this episode, Chopra raised some spitacular questions, like “Riwaaz-e-thook, ye kaisi bhookh? (A practice of spitting, what kind of hunger is this?)” This sentence is more than an example of godawful poetry and dubious use of Urdu grammar. The “bhookh” is a hat tip to a favourite topic of Hindutva propaganda – the supposedly rapacious greed of Muslims and the culture of Muslim “appeasement” that will destroy India. Yes, this is what passes for subtlety on Chopra’s show.
Soon after, Ashwini Upadhyay fretted that there may be other bodily fluids floating in food prepared by Muslims. “Ye bhi toh ho sakta hai ki dal ka rang peela hota hai, sabzi ka rang peela hota hai, usme pishaab bhi kar rahe ho? (Could it be that since dal and sabzi are yellow, they have urinated on them?)” he postulated, which should concern Upadhyay’s well-wishers because aside from suggesting a certain level of psychosis, this colour theory of pee may be an indication that Upadhyay needs to drink more water. (PSA: Pee shouldn’t be peela, it should be transparent.)
Chopra’s response: “Nai nai nai...ye toh Muslim Hotel hai, hotel ka naam hai Ghaziabad mein. Iske jihad ka shikaar toh Muslim bhai ho rahe honge. (No no...this is Muslim Hotel. The hotel in Ghaziabad is named Muslim Hotel. The victims of their jihaad would be other Muslims.)”
Not that Upadhyay’s allegation was outlandish nor that spitting, like Bollywood and cricket, is a favourite pastime of men across the religious divide in India. Instead, Chopra just kept repeating the word Muslim.
Unsurprisingly, the conversation devolved into blatant Muslim bashing in no time. Ragi declared, “Dharm se lena dena hai (it does have to do with religion)”, his statement landing with a splat on Chopra’s initial claim that this was a matter of swacchata (cleanliness). Ragi then managed to drag Afghanistan into the spittoon of his argument: “Afghanistan mein jo maare jaate hai unke jeb mein chaabi milti hai. Woh kehte hai marenge toh jannat mein pariya milenge. (A key is found on people who die in Afghanistan. They claim if they die, they’ll get angels in heaven.)”
This man is in Delhi University. (One moment’s silence for the students who have to make sense of his lectures.)
Not to be left behind in the race to spray and spread hate speech, Gautam said at one point, “Paschimi Uttar Pradesh ke andar phal ka kaam, doodh ka kaam, sabziyo ka kaam, 75% kaam ye thooku gang ke haath mein hai. Yehi log khana khila rahe hai… Agar isme koi virus mila diya toh kal kitni badi bimari phail sakti hai (In western UP, 75 percent of food, milk and vegetable market is controlled by this thooku gang. These are the people feeding us. If they mix some virus, the disease could spread widely).”
Never mind the minor question of where he’s sourced this economic data from, let’s just focus instead on Gautam’s dazzling imagination which has dreamt up a virus that can be added to saliva like a mixer is added to alcohol in a cocktail. Perhaps such keen insights into chemistry and biology are only possible when you’ve immersed yourself in the study of Vedic sciences.
Upadhyay spitballed that these dastardly saliva-centric practices were connected to only “ek particular samuday vishesh” (one particular religious community).
“In thook jihadiyon ko ya toh maa baap sikha rahe hai ya koi school mein jaa rahe hai (These thook jihadis are either being taught all this by their parents or at their schools),” he said.
For Chopra, the most natural progression from this unfounded accusation against Muslim culture was to Bollywood. “Ek bade actor hai Bollywood ke, unhone kaha ki main jis heroine ke haath mein thookta hu woh number one ho jaati hai. Yahan log khaane mein thook rahe hai, waha haath mein thook rahe hai. (There is a Bollywood star who said that whichever heroine’s hand he spits into, becomes number one. Here people are spitting in food, there he is, spitting on hands),” he said.
Chopra coyly refused to name the actor, but unlike his team at News18 India, we at Newslaundry know how to search for facts on the internet. So let us reveal to you this spit-slathering superstar: Aamir Khan, who is known for his practical jokes and regularly pranks fellow actors by saying he can read their palms. When the actor sticks out their hand in the hope of getting their fortune read, Khan spits on that hand. Lame practical joke, but there is on this.
When Chopra showed a video of a group of boys licking spoons as yet another scrap of “evidence”, Maulana Asaadi tried to point out this was part of in the Bohra community, intended to raise awareness about not wasting food. “Ye Mumbai ka jo video dikha rahe hai woh aastha hai (This video you are showing from Mumbai is showing a ritual),” he said, thus unleashing upon himself a splatter of Hindutva-flavoured criticism. Here’s a sample of what Chopra said to Asaadi:
Main toh soch ke aaya tha ki isse dharm se koi lena dena nahi hai lekin maulana ne kaha ki ye inki aastha hai. Roti mein thookna, biryani mein thookna inki aastha hai. (I was thinking this behaviour has no connection with religion, but he said it is a part of his belief system. Spitting in rotis and spitting in biryani is a part of his belief system.)
Arre aapke aashtha ke chakkar mein main kyu thooka hua khau? (Why should I eat food with spit in it because of your beliefs?)
Maulana Asaadi Sahab, mujhe nahi pata aapki urja ka karan kya hai...ye wala khaane hai...lekin mere mein toh nahi hai, aaram se boliye. (Maulana Asaadi, I don’t know the secret of your energy...it’s this food you eat...but I don’t eat it, so please speak softly.)
Let it not be said Chopra, a Zee News alum before he joined News18 India, passed up an opportunity to demonise Muslims.
At one point, Chopra rattled off a series of names, allegedly of people who have been arrested for spitting in public. “Naushad, Anwar, Khalid, Shahrukh, Irshad, Mohammad aur Abul Salaam,” he said, “In saare naamo mein kya common hai? (What do these names have in common)”
Helpfully, he supplied the answer with a roar: “ARRE DHARM COMMON HAI! (They have their religion in common).” Chopra’s contention was that only Muslims have been arrested for this offence.
Not only is this claim highly debatable, anyone who has used public transport, particularly in north India, can supply evidence to the contrary.
We tried to search for the names in Chopra’s roll call and ended up finding more factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the videos he’d shown on his programme. For instance, , where a man from the Philippines was caught stealing bread which Chopra claimed was an Indian delivery guy spitting on food. Then there's , where a qazi from Kerala is blowing on food to bless it. Then there’s , where a ritual called Fatiha Jalana, which involves blowing on hot food, is shown. Both these were held up as evidence of either the lack of hygiene among Muslims or an evil Muslim conspiracy.
We here at Newslaundry watch a lot of television news. The sad fact is that it no longer surprises us to see barely-veiled Islamophobia being paraded on mainstream Indian news channels. However, Chopra’s programme stands out, partly for the toxic hate speech spouted by both the host and the panellists but mostly because this was a news programme that carried blatant misinformation and depicted it as factual evidence. This was not satire and neither was it a programme on a general entertainment channel. “Desh Nahin Jhukne Denge” with Aman Chopra is a news show on a news channel. Had News18 India been a marginal, vanity project that was pretending to be a journalistic outfit, we could perhaps have ignored it. However, it is (at least on paper) a bona fide news channel, owned by Reliance, one of the largest conglomerates in the country. Not only can it afford to do better, it must be held to the basic stands of journalism and ethics. This episode fails on every count.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the sponsors of Chopra’s spitshow were Patanjali, MDH Kesar, Lux Inferno, Campus Shoes, Sparx and Opigesic.
The real reward for Chopra though is not the money coming in from advertisers. The day after his #ThookJihad show was aired, Chopra received the greatest gift of all: a follow from prime minister Narendra Modi on Twitter.
We’ve sent questions to Aman Chopra and Kishore Ajwani, managing editor of News18 India, as well as all the brands that sponsored this episode. If they respond, this article will be updated.