“He asked: India is so poor, why would anyone give you money to check it?”

Where did you get 2 million rupees for a tweet?

I don’t know… This question was not asked. I was asked about joining Alt News, how do I know Prateek, did I know about Mukul Sinha’s (Pratik Sinha’s father) anti-Modi activism, did I join Alt News after knowing that he was? But I was never asked about this complaint if I took two million rupees. I mean… how can you imagine “that a fellow can get 2 million rupees for a tweet”. The IT cell of BJP will also think twice before making this claim.

What was going through your head in the middle of all this?

I felt very comfortable talking about the funding and finances of Alt News. Prateek, Nirjhari Aunty (Pratik Sinha’s mother) and I have discussed it often, especially because of rumors and misinformation about our funding. So we have kept everything very transparent and in accordance with the rules. Questions also arose about my “Unofficial Subramanian Swamy” Facebook profile where I often used to mock the news. Take for example Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb’s statement that there was internet during the Mahabharata. If you look at my comment on this out of context, it will look like a Muslim making fun of the Mahabharata or the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. But it was not so.

Interestingly, I met a police officer who said he’s been following my page since 2015 and loved it.

But the inquiry was in this direction why do you mock Hindus?

In Sitapur, I was asked why I did not tweet Bajrang Muni’s apology. I was told that I only tweeted her threat of rape, but did not tweet the video of her apology, hours after the police registered the case. I said why should I? His video didn’t sound like an apology to me and that can’t be an excuse.

He was very surprised that out of 15 Alt News employees, only three are Muslims, one of whom is me. They wanted me to name all the employees, so I told them. Two or three of them were surprised that almost all our colleagues are Hindus: “You are a Hindu, you write against Hindus.” I said we don’t do that…we only write against people who spread misinformation. Also, most of our donors are Hindus.

In the case of Delhi, I explained that I had only tweeted a scene from a movie and there are cases where the same tweet has been tweeted by supporters of the government. They didn’t like what I mentioned in 2014. Shortly after that, they also started asking about Alt News funding, but this has been my experience in all previous cases as well. The investigation was going on only in regards to Alt News funding. He showed me the list of donors and asked why someone was donating 40,000 rupees.

They were talking well with me, but at Patiala House Court I was a bit surprised when they accused us of receiving foreign donations and said that I was receiving money directly into my account. Although I think during interrogation they were convinced that we only got the money through Indian accounts. Whether it’s Razorpay or Instamojo, you can’t send money with a foreign card.

I think many journalists who are against power somehow expect CBI or ED or IT department to knock on their door too. But until that happens, you’re not really ready.

I remember telling my friends that I am sure that they could not arrest me in the 2020 case because the Delhi High Court had given me protection from arrest. But what if there is a new FIR? Since it has happened, you know what happened to Jignesh Mevani. My friends said I’m getting angry without talking. We thought the situation would not be so bad. I didn’t think this would happen. but again…

The thought of being in prison away from your family can break the good. There comes a time when we think if all this is fair. Did you think so?

I might have found myself a couple of times that if I hadn’t been at Alt News, I would have been in Japan, because I used to work at Nokia. My parents said I will earn more. But I think what I did at Alt News gave me a lot of comfort. The support I have received after going to prison has strengthened my faith. Now I think I should have done mass communication instead of engineering. This should have been done from the beginning.

Fake news is a problem, but the bigger problem is that most of the fake news is spread about the Muslim community. This is worrying. Most of the prime time debates are about Hindus and Muslims. I know what kind of challenges my community faces, how to address them. In addition to doing journalism, I always felt that I should focus on it.

This experience is very personal in a way. I also see the debates you speak of, but it doesn’t affect me as directly as it does you… because you are a Muslim.

Yes, especially on news feeds… and the kind of hashtags he uses every evening. This is very sad…not just for me. When I shared Nupur Sharma’s Times Now clip, that was my intention. This is not the first time someone has abused the Prophet or Islam. A lot of people come to my timeline and say all kinds of things about Islam and the Prophet, I never cared.

But in this case the spokesperson of the largest national party goes to a major news channel, speaks like this and the anchor doesn’t even think to stop her. I remember you showed in your show that Nupur tried to do the same in two other channels – News24 and Republic Bharat and she was stopped there. I really wanted to call out the news channel and the news anchor, and it hurts me that people don’t talk about news channels but go in another direction.

You have also been criticized for drawing attention to Nupur’s words. You may have read Shekhar Gupta’s article. But basically the question is whether you are showing secularism or liberalism by paying attention to Nupur’s words. The argument is that you exposed Nupur’s words as blasphemy, that was your main intention. And that’s not a journalist’s job.

I haven’t read most of the articles or reviews as you say. But I think the people who say that haven’t read my tweets or seen the tweets related to it. Nowhere have I mentioned blasphemy.

My intention was to call the channel. I tagged Times Now, Vineet Jain. My main aim was to bring the news anchors to the dock, as they have normalized the Hindu vs Muslim debate. People have been incited to abuse other religions, hate speech has been promoted. I wanted to highlight how these channels don’t talk about real issues. I have even said that these channels are worse than the Dharma Sansad. I don’t know why people thought it was pointing towards profanity.

Did you think your tweet would go viral? And will it become such a big diplomatic row?

of course not. I never imagined that the matter would go this far. But I think it is wrong to say that he “insulted India”, it was an insult to BJP. My purpose in showing the international condemnation of this incident was to highlight how India is being humiliated by a party spokesperson.

Have you ever felt uncomfortable about how it turned into a case of profanity?

Yes, especially in the Kanpur incident. Statements of beheading of Muslim leaders, small children attending rallies in Andheri. The matter became very serious and the leaders of the responsible parties demanded that Nupur be hanged. I think Nupur’s suspension from her party is bigger than her arrest. What is the point of demanding his arrest? A suspension message has arrived.

Do you think you should have made a clear statement on Twitter now that you don’t support this whole episode of blasphemy, the form this controversy has taken?

I didn’t think to give an explanation then, maybe I should have, I don’t know. There was a whole campaign against me, people were demanding my arrest. I thought I might go to jail. People advised me to stay away from social media. I didn’t feel safe. People were announcing rewards after registering an FIR against me, so somehow everything got out of hand.

But the police officer I mentioned, who liked my Subramanian Swamy page, said I shouldn’t tweet Nupur’s video because people in India are so excited. Somehow, I never imagined this level of outrage. I don’t know, but my intention was always to really expose the news channel.

It is very important that some people adhere to their principles even before the power of power. In your case, it looks like your fact-checking has made you the target of the law. Do you sometimes wonder why you risk your personal and physical freedom? You know there may be more attempts to put you in jail, but where do you get the courage to go through with it all?

of my well-wishers You know where I am, it is difficult for a Muslim to reach that place, the influence I have the ability to make. Many supporters have asked me to make good use of this privilege and not let them down. Now that I have this reputation, I must use it well. After my arrest, everyone was afraid that when they could be arrested for tweeting or fact-checking, what would happen to journalists on the ground. I think that’s why it’s important to keep doing the journalism I do.

I have been a great support to my wife. I didn’t know she was that strong until my arrest. I haven’t told him this…but he really took good care of my parents when I was in prison. Otherwise he would have been completely broken, he is not very political so it has cost him a lot.

What did you miss most about prison?

Playing with my three month old daughter.

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