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My allegiance is to the Constitution, I don't believe in the concept of motherland: Prashant Kanojia

An interview with the journalist who was jailed for poking fun at Yogi Adityanath

By Furquan Ameen in New Delhi
  • Published 21.06.19, 8:55 PM
  • Updated 22.06.19, 2:30 PM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Prashant Kanojia and Jagisha Arora Source: Facebook page of Prashant Kanojia

After his arrest, Prashant Kanojia's older social media posts got a lot of attention.

At least one news channel flashed his tweets in an attempt to prove how "anti-Hindu" the 26-year-old journalist was. 

Kanojia was arrested on June 8 for commenting on a video. It was a clip of a woman making unsubstantiated claims about a relationship with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. She wanted to know if Adityanath would marry her.

"Ishq chhupaye nahin chhupta Yogiji (can't hide love in this way, Yogiji)," Kanojia tweeted on the video clip on June 6. In the FIR, Lucknow police said he had made "objectionable comments" on Adityanath and maligned his image. 

Two days after he tweeted, Kanojia was in a police car, being driven from east Delhi to Uttar Pradesh. Sitting in the Innova with his two plain-clothed escorts, Kanojia initially thought he would be taken to a police station in Delhi. Or may be to neighbouring Noida. 

“I got worried when they crossed Greater Noida. I thought what if they make an encounter case out of me. UP police have a bad record anyway. What if they say that he tried to escape and so they shot me.” He was terrified. 

Kanojia is a Dalit, and is expressive about it as many educated Dalits are, although his Twitter bio now says @pjkanojia is a non-political handle.

The tweets show he is irrepressible. The posts he retweets from various news websites and channels make it apparent that caste and communal discrimination make Kanojia bristle on social media. In that sense, the tweets are an extension of who Kanojia is. 

That he was labelled a "tathakathit" or so-called journalist by other journalists when he was in jail made him upset. “You can say anything to discredit anyone," he said. How can someone who was caught demanding a Rs 100-crore bribe on camera be a journalist, he asked. "How can someone who supported the Kathua rape and murder accused be a journalist?" 

The criticism his tweets attracted as they became prime time fodder has made Kanojia angry. 

Jagisha Arora, his wife, said she saw the "Yogiji" tweet as a jest. “I’d still say he shared it as humour,” she said. 

Kanojia has tweeted in this vein earlier too. 

On May 18, he put out a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi sitting in the Kedarnath cave resort, his eyes shut. Beside that picture was a sketch of the Buddha. Above the Buddha sketch was the label "Gautam Buddha". Written above the image of Modi was "Mandh Buddhi". 

Such tweets are on Kanojia's handle by the dozens. 

But many posts are also responses to news of atrocities committed against Dalits and Muslims. 

“If you beat up a Dalit and urinate in his mouth, I’m not... going to say, 'main iski kadi ninda karta hoon (I condemn the incident)'. I’ll use harsh language,” Kanojia said. “I’m a Dalit. I’ve experienced the hate that is propagated in the Hindu community.” 

But why share controversial opinions about India or its leaders, he was asked. 

“My allegiance is to the Constitution," he replied. "Not to this country or any leader. I don’t believe in the concept of a motherland - ki yeh dharti meri maa hai  (that the soil of this country is like my mother)." 

What about June 8 and after that?

Kanojia quoted one of the policemen telling him: “Tum Wire walon ko zyada charbi chadh gayi hai. Tum ko toh dalenge, phir tumhare baap ko bhi dalenge (you people who work for The Wire have become too big for your boots. We will put you in and then those you report to).” This quote could not be confirmed. Kanojia's Twitter bio mentions that he had worked for The Wire. 

He said he felt relieved when he realised that the car had reached Lucknow. He was taken to a magistrate’s home where he was just asked to tell his name and his father’s. He was then taken to a hospital where he claims about 150 police officers were present. Doctors and other staff looked worried as if some terrorist was being brought in, Kanojia said. 

About 500 km away in Delhi, Jagisha and the couple’s friends were worried sick from the morning. By night, it became clear that he was taken to Lucknow but they didn’t know exactly where he was kept and for what he was taken away. “One entire day passed and I didn’t know where Prashant was. I was scared that he had perhaps been kidnapped by someone posing as a police officer,” Jagisha said.

She did not know what habeas corpus was. " I Googled it," she said, and followed the instructions of her lawyers, Nithya Ramakrishnan and Shadan Farasat. Kanojia was charged with criminal defemation, public mischief and under the IT Act.

Even if the government disagreed with a tweet or anything that anyone wrote, it did not give it "the right to send me to jail", Jagisha argued.

Kanojia was sent to Lucknow Central Jail on the morning of June 9. He stayed there till his release on the evening of June 12 after the Supreme Court granted him bail, upholding his right to personal liberty. 

It was a strange and scary time in the jail, Kanojia recalled.

“People who had committed murders and rapes, those prisoners were amused to find that I was arrested for a tweet on social media against the chief minister,” he said.

Kanojia has now started freelance work with The Print Hindi and Satya Hindi, a news website run by former AAP politician Ashutosh. 

He is also back to tweeting.