Journalist Pushp Sharma who had reported in March that the government’s Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy ministry had a policy that would not allow it to recruit Muslims as yoga instructors was arrested on Saturday by the Delhi Police.

In a report in Milli Gazette, Sharma had reproduced a Right to Information reply that he claimed showed that although Muslims had applied for jobs as yoga instructors, the ministry hadn’t hired a single on “as per government policy”. However, the government claims that this document has been forged and has charged Sharma under section 153A for spreading communal hatred, among other crimes.

This action against the journalist is in sharp contrast to the police inaction in February, when several television channels were accused of broadcasting doctored videos of a meeting at Jawaharlal Nehru University at which slogans alleged to have been anti-national were shouted. Ironically, unlike Sharma’s report, the fake videos of the JNU incident actually led to violence.

Are Muslims recruited?

Pushp Sharma's article in March, purportedly based on an RTI reply from the AYUSH ministry, claimed that 711 Muslim yoga trainers had applied to participate in the World Yoga Day programme in 2015 but not a single one was even called for an interview. All the 26 trainers eventually selected and sent abroad were Hindu. Sharma also said that 3,841 Muslim candidates applied for the post of yoga instructor till October 2015 but not a single one was selected. Sharma quotes what he claims is an RTI reply: “As per government policy – No Muslim candidate was invited, selected or sent abroad”.

Calling the document Sharma was using for these statistics “forged and fabricated”, the first information report against Sharma accuses him of “disturbing harmony, damaging national interest and promoting mistrust with ulterior motives".

However, Zafarul-Islam Khan, the chief editor of the Milli Gazette, insisted that all the documents are genuine and accused the government of acting in a mala fide manner. “If the ministry thinks this story is wrong, we are ready to print a rejoinder but they simply went in to arrest Sharma,” said Khan. “What is the reality? Are there any Muslim yoga instructors? Whenever we ask them that they go silent.”

Sharma had been called in for police questioning several times in March. As media watchdog The Hoot notes, no legal notice was issued to the publication before the police action. Moreover, the charge under section 153A does not require a warrant and is non-bailable.

Inconsistent approach

What makes the Union government’s action against Sharma even more baffling is its completely opposite stand taken on the case of the doctored videos that several TV channels broadcast purporting to show anti-national being chanted at an event about Kashmir at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. Here, multiple investigations have shown the videos of the event to be doctored. In one case, a producer at Zee News even resigned from the channel saying that “his conscience had started to revolt” since the channel’s alleged misrepresentation of the JNU video had “brought their [accused students] careers, their hopes and aspirations and families of some people to the brink of destruction.

And it’s not only the videos: in the case of Umar Khalid, false news was even put out claiming that he was linked to a terrorist organisation. There's been no action on that, either.

So high-pitched was TV rhetoric that the hysteria it engendered sparked off violence. After he was arrested for sedition in February, Kanhaiya Kumar, a key victim of the doctored videos and president of the JNU student’s union, was assaulted by frenzied lawyers at the Patiala House Court in the middle of the capital. The attack was so forceful that even his police guards couldn’t protect him.

Elsewhere in the court complex and right outside, JNU students, teachers and journalists were assaulted by hyper-nationalists. A Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Delhi, OP Sharma, was later arrested for participating in the attacks.

Later, death threats were delivered to Kumar. The other two accused men, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, went into hiding after the media accounts against them. Both of them have told the court they feared lynch mobs given the climate of hysteria.

Yet, in spite of this actual violence, intimation and fear, the Union government did not prosecute anyone.

There is a striking difference between the cases, though. The doctored JNU videos bolstered the government's claims politically. But the report by Pushp Sharma has shown it in poor light.