A group of men who went after those they called “anti-national” and claim they got them arrested, suspended and, in one case, fired from a job won an RSS affiliate’s badge of honour — for social media journalism.
Indeed, the proof of the achievement they flaunt is telling. These include a letter from a Guwahati college suspending an assistant professor; a letter from a Rajasthan university suspending four Kashmiri students, all girls; a Twitter post that led to an arrest in Jaipur; a letter from a Greater Noida engineering college suspending a Kashmiri student; and a Facebook post that led to the arrest of an undergraduate student in Katihar, Bihar.
When The Indian Express contacted authorities and officials, some said they had withdrawn their action since no criminal case was made out.
These men and women were singled out for social media comments in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack and the air duel between Indian and Pakistani warjets after the Balakot air strike. Following the Pulwama attack, Kashmiri students in several colleges were targeted by angry mobs and many had to leave campuses fearing a backlash.
Last Saturday, Clean The Nation (CTN), the group which went after them, was honoured with the Social Media Patrakarita Narad Samman, instituted by RSS-affiliate Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra (IVSK).
The Narad Samman ceremony for journalism awards was held at the India International Centre in New Delhi where the winners were felicitated in the presence of RSS joint general secretary Manmohan Vaidya and Union Minister Smriti Irani.
On the social media journalism award to CTN, Vagish Issar, secretary of IVSK, said: “We gave the award to them because we saw how much this group loves the nation. Many people love the nation, but some people love it actively.”
The CTN started as a Facebook group, formed by nine men on February 15, a day after the terror attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama. Most of its activity was over the next two days, in which they claim to have drawn over 4,500 members. Facebook and Twitter later repeatedly took down CTN handles, but the initial Facebook page was run by a loose network of about 40 administrators with a lead group of nine men, mostly in their 20s who work as IT professionals in Delhi and Noida. Today, its Twitter handle @CleanTheNation1 has over 7,750 followers.
In the first video that mobilised the group across platforms in February, CTN core member Madhur Singh says: “This is not a time to change your DPs and take out candle marches.” Sporting a shirt with Indian Army written across it, he says: “Find out who is laughing at our soldiers today… Contact their employers. Contact the universities they are studying in … Screw them up this way. Get them terminated from their jobs. Get them suspended from their universities.”
Known as “Placard Guy” in the network, Singh told The Indian Express that his team focused on collecting information through Facebook because it has the most personal location details. CTN core members claimed that the group’s online mobilisation efforts led to “roughly 45 actions” against “anti-Indians”.
The majority of complaints from the expansive yet loosely-connected network were tweets tagging CTN leaders and local police handles, but CTN claims several members also filed FIRs and company and university complaints outside of social media.
In one case, an MBA student was suspended from IIMT College of Engineering in Greater Noida for a Facebook post. Sanjay Pachauri, chief proctor at the college who signed the suspension order, told The Indian Express that he had emailed and sent a WhatsApp message to the student after an internal complaint alerted him to the post on February 16. The student was in Kashmir for a break, and told administration that the account was not his because it had a different spelling from his name.
The college issued a suspension order, and directed the student to lodge an FIR at the police station concerned regarding the “hacked” social media ID. The student sent a copy of the FIR over WhatsApp to Pachauri and, on February 19, the police station sent a letter saying that the student was “not involved in any kind of supervised criminal activity”. The student, Pachauri said, has not returned to college since and has missed his examination.
Another document from the CTN network was a suspension letter from the ICON Commerce College in Guwahati against an assistant professor. An anonymous Twitter handle connected to the CTN network tagged Assam Police’s Twitter handle with a screenshot of the professor’s comment, to which the official handle responded that the case was being looked into. On February 16, police lodged a case against the professor under sections of the IPC and IT Act.
The assistant professor told The Indian Express that she had fled her home that day because of “media hounding” and returned at the end of the month when reporters had dropped the story. She said that college management had told her to wait for a final decision on her suspension, but she was yet to hear from them on the status of her position.
In Jaipur, a 32-year-old man was arrested on February 28 for a Facebook post regarding Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the IAF pilot who was captured by Pakistan security forces after he had to eject from his aircraft. The man, who was arrested and charged under sections of the IPC and IT Act, is currently out on bail, police said. “I spent three days in police custody and seven days in judicial custody. Right now I am out on bail and have appeared in court a few times. The police are yet to conclude their investigation,” he told The Indian Express.
Four Kashmiri students, all girls, studying at NIMS university in Jaipur, were suspended on February 16 for a WhatsApp status update following the Pulwama terror attack. The post was interpreted as celebratory and after protests from fellow students and local residents, they were suspended from college and hostel with the university observing that they had posted an “anti-national message,” and termed their actions “grave” and “serious in nature.”
All four were booked under sections 124A (sedition) and 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) of the IPC as well as sections of the IT Act. SHO Vikrant Sharma said the FIR was lodged on a complaint by NIMS Deputy Registrar Sushila Chahar, but none of the four was arrested at any point.
“We investigated the case and concluded that no offence is made out against them. We then submitted our report in the court,” Sharma said.
Chahar told The Indian Express: “Police investigated the case and filed their final report, where no offence was made out against them. Hence, we revoked their suspension order. Since then, the girls have also appeared in their annual examination.”
In Katihar in Bihar, an undergraduate student was arrested from his village on February 17 for a Facebook post.
In Srinagar, a car dealership’s HR department disputed the authenticity of a termination letter shared by the CTN network. The letter circulated on social media said the company fired an employee for posting “unlawful and discriminational comments”. The man in question, who is still employed at the car dealership, told The Indian Express: “Because of this drama, I had lots of problems at home. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. This photo became very viral over here. Whatever happened, happened. Why it happened, I don’t know.”
CTN core member Ashutosh Vashishtha said: “These documents came from our shared Google Docs. How can it be fake? Many organisations said that these people don’t work here, and then when we went to check, we saw that they were hiding their employees to protect their reputation. This document is definitely verified.”
— With inputs from Hamza Khan (Jaipur), Santosh Singh (Patna).