A viral video of a teacher in Uttar Pradesh telling other students to slap a seven-year-old Muslim boy sparked widespread condemnation last week.
But three days after the video was widely circulated online and on social media platforms, the police on August 28 filed a first information report against Mohammed Zubair, the co-founder of fact-checking website Alt News, for allegedly revealing the identity of the child.
Zubair had posted a video of the incident on X, formerly known as Twitter, on the evening of August 25, but took it down within a few hours after chairperson of the national child rights body Priyank Kanoongo said the identity of the child should not be revealed.
However, Zubair was neither the first nor the only person to share the video on social media. In fact, the video was shared across social media platforms by journalists, activists, news outlets and television news anchors.
Zubair has been targeted in the past as well for his rigorous fact-checking and verification calling out false and communal claims. He was arrested and jailed last year for around three weeks after an anonymous Twitter user complained that Zubair’s tweet from 2018 of a still from a 1983 Bollywood movie had hurt “religious sentiments”.
Viral video, teacher in the dock
The video of the incident was shot by Mohammad Nadeem, the seven-year-old child’s cousin, on August 24. The video showed Tripta Tyagi, who owns Neha Public School Khubapur village of Muzaffarnagar district, telling the seven-year-old boy’s classmates to hit him as she makes derisory remarks about Muslims students. Nadeem said he was supervising construction work at Tyagi’s school when he shot the video.
The same day, Kanoongo, chairperson of National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, wrote on X in Hindi at 7.05 pm that legal action was being taken in the incident. Kanoongo also said that for the privacy and safety of the child, the video should not be shared on social media and requested users to delete the video.
At 8.48pm, Zubair tweeted that he had deleted his post. Other social media users, too, deleted posts of the video.
Supreme Court lawyer Sunieta Ojha, who has been part of the expert panel of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said the law is meant to protect the dignity of the child. “If you reveal their identity they will not be able to restart their life afresh after the incident,” she said.
As the video and news of the incident drew condemnation from Opposition parties, political leaders and advocacy groups, the police filed a case against Tyagi the next day. The charges in the first information report are non-cognisable, meaning that the police cannot arrest the accused without a warrant. The police also need permission from a court to start an investigation.
Three days later, on August 28, the Uttar Pradesh Police filed a case against Zubair. The FIR was registered at Masurpur police station in Muzaffarnagar district based on a complaint by a person named Vishnudutt. It invokes Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act prohibiting the disclosure of a child victim’s identity. Punishment carries a six-month jail term or a fine of up to Rs 2 lakh or both.
Ravi Shankar, Circle Officer, Khatuali, under whose jurisdiction the Mansurpur police station comes under, said that the police took cognisance after receiving a complaint naming Zubair. “The matter is under investigation and if we find that more people are involved in the matter then we will take action accordingly,” said Shankar, adding that any new findings will be added to the case. “We [are] also look[ing] into how long the tweets were up and if the tweets were later deleted.”
Zubair told Scroll he was being singled out as others had also shared the video but he was the only one named in the FIR.
Last year, Zubair had tweeted a video of suspended Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s tirade against Prophet Muhammad during a television debate. This led to a diplomatic row as she was criticised by several Muslim nations.
Appeared on Facebook first
The video of the Uttar Pradesh teacher incident had first appeared on Facebook on August 24, hours after the incident took place, said Zubair. On Twitter too, the video was available before Zubair tweeted it at 6.39 pm IST on August 25.
Shadab Khan, a 55-year-old Doha-based media professional, had posted the video on Twitter at 3.24 PM IST. Khan told Scroll over text messages that he had received the video on WhatsApp from someone he knew.
“It was so shocking that I posted it immediately,” said Khan, explaining why he did not blur the faces of the children. “I didn’t think that far.” Soon after, the video gained traction.
Zubair said that when he came across Khan’s post, he spent two hours verifying details of the incident. “[I] got to know that the video is from Muzaffarnagar and got in touch with the child’s father through a journalist friend,” said Zubair. “[I also] spoke to a local reporter who had accompanied the father to the police station and I spoke to the cousin who [had] shot the video.”
He said that only after confirming the veracity of the incident he quote-tweeted Khan’s post of the video. Apart from quoting Khan’s tweet, Zubair posted two more videos separately that he received from Nadeem, the seven-year-old child’s cousin who had shot the video.
The next day, on August 26, several X users, including journalists and politicians, complained that their tweets of the incident had been blocked in India.
The Indian government has in the past ordered Twitter to block posts or videos critical of the Centre or showing the Centre in bad light.
Earlier in August, the government told Twitter to block posts by journalist Rana Ayyub and MP Asaduddin Owaisi on the train shooting incident. On July 31, a railway police constable had gone on a shooting spree targeting Muslim passengers on board the Jaipur-Mumbai Central Superfast Express. The constable, Chetan Singh, shot dead his superior and three Muslim passengers.
Meanwhile, more videos of the child were shared on social media after farmer leader Naresh Tikait brokered a compromise between Tyagi and the seven-year-old’s family on August 26. Videos showed the children speaking to the media on camera as well as the classmates hugging each other. Several social media users posted these videos and at the time of publishing, many of them were still up on X.