Freelance journalist Pushp Sharma, who broke the story that AYUSH Ministry, which promotes traditional medicine systems, does not hire Muslims for short-term positions as trainers for World Yoga Day as it is against government policy, was taken in by the police for questioning on March 15th. He was released at night after interrogation, and asked to report again to the police station on the 16th.
The AYUSH Ministry had filed a formal complaint with the Delhi Police asking them to probe the alleged ‘fake’ response to an RTI query on which Sharma based his story.
The Milli Gazette which published the story, and Sharma himself, stand by the story.
For the story with updates, see this story in Huffington Post.
For an interview with Sharma just before he was taken in for questioning, see Sabrang.
After his temporary release last evening, Sharma wrote a letter to his readers in which he said that he had told the police that the internationally accepted procedure if a news story was contested, was for those challenging the veracity of the story to send the relevant documents. These documents are cross checked, and if the story turns out to be wrong, then a correction and apology are published.
Why is the AYUSH Ministry not releasing documents that prove Sharma’s claim to be false? Why has a journalist been handed over to the tender mercies of the Delhi Police, simply for writing a story? At the police station, he says, “I heard just abuses, and shouts and allegations, like: who is behind you and what is your motive?”
If the AYUSH Ministry believes that its credibility is dented by the “fake” RTI response, it needs to demonstrate that in fact it has not followed such a policy. For instance, release the original pages of the file that Sharma has allegedly falsified. There are legal routes to follow in the case of defamation, setting the police on a journalist who wrote an inconvenient story is unacceptable. It has never happened before that an RTI user has been put through police interrogation like this, says a story in The Wire. The story also says:
Meanwhile, Zafarul Islam Khan, editor of Milli Gazette – which ran Pushp Sharma’s story, told The Wire that while he had read in some newspapers about his newspaper being charged under Section 153-A of the IPC for promoting hatred among communities and Section 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating), he has neither received notice of this or a call from the police.
An overall atmosphere of intimidation and suppression of criticism of discriminatory policies of the government is being put in place. The portents are grim.