Monday, 30th October 2017

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Tricks getting more tricky

At Shaheen, a YouTuber followed by PM

By Pheroze L. Vincent in New Delhi
  • Published 6.02.20, 3:10 AM
  • Updated 6.02.20, 3:10 AM
  • 3 mins read
Gunja Kapoor at Shaheen Bagh (Sourced by The Telegraph)

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi started following Gunja Kapoor, a Right-wing YouTuber, on Twitter, it had made her exclaim: “I couldn’t have asked for a happier New Year gift! Thanks a ton, PM @narendramodi ji for this acknowledgement. We are your foot soldiers in building India as the Vishwa Guru. Really means a lot.”

On Wednesday, clad in a burqa, Kapoor followed a trail that took her to Shaheen Bagh and controversy.

Allegedly videographing conversations with a spy camera, Kapoor was questioned by women protesters at Shaheen Bagh, the unparalleled vigil spearheaded by women against the new citizenship matrix.

She was let off after police intervened but not before the manner in which she was moving around there and the nature of her questions to the protesters had raised several questions.

The controversy assumes significance against the backdrop of repeated attempts to malign the protest. A fact-checking web site has punched gaping holes in a purported sting operation that alleged paid protesters were at play at Shaheen Bagh.

On Wednesday, witnesses said that around 11am, women protesters near the stage grew suspicious when Kapoor asked questions such as: “Don’t you think you are wasting your time here?”

She was then taken by the protesters to the medical kiosk behind the stage, where several women formed human chains around her.

Upasana Sharma, one of the protesters who questioned her, told The Telegraph: “When the women found her questions odd, they asked where she was from, and she replied that she was from Lucknow. They asked her to show videos on her phone of protests there and she fumbled.

“I asked for her identity card, and she said it is her right not to show her identification. I told her that she had nothing to fear and no one would harm her. We are there to help if she cooperates and discloses her identity. She took an identity card from her bag and showed us.”

A video clip tweeted by retired Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury shows Sharma asking Kapoor if she was wearing a burqa because she had converted to Islam.

Kapoor replies in the negative and says: “I hid my identity so that people trust me and speak freely.”

Interrupting, Sharma says: “I am a Hindu woman and people speak to me freely. I don’t wear a burqa.”

Women can be heard saying: “The burqa has been defamed, we have been defamed!”

Kapoor told the women: “Day before yesterday, I was at a debate at Jamia Millia Islamia, and people surrounded us because we have a different viewpoint. After that, we swore that we won’t go to these protest demonstrations, we don’t know anything. Our channel has never covered any protest demonstration. You can check.”

She added that after a link was alleged on Tuesday between the Aam Aadmi Party and Kapil Baisala, the shooter at Shaheen Bagh, “we said that if this is (chief minister and AAP leader Arvind) Kejriwal’s dirty politics, we will come here and see what it is.”

Sharma said that they found an electronic device hidden in her burqa that they suspected was a spy camera unit. “The police tried to come and drag her out but we refused saying that only women officers can take her away after the press have questioned her. Trying to impersonate and spy is not reporting. We don’t want to be the victim of fake news and that’s why we insisted that she first be recorded by news channels before being taken away.”

Women officers were able to escort Kapoor out after leaders of the protest intervened. They took her to Sarita Vihar police station.

According to Sharma, Kapoor was held for around half an hour. The YouTuber said she was held for an hour.

DCP (South East) R.P. Meena said: “We had no issue. Whatever happened has been sorted out… If she has made any complaint we will look into it.”

Lawyer Firoz Iqbal Khan, who helped the police take Kapoor away, said the police later returned to look for her belongings. A bag that was found was returned to them.

Kapoor, who has complained that her phone and Aadhaar card were missing, told reporters in the evening: “It is a small liberation centre in the middle of Delhi and if you don’t look or talk in a certain way then this happens. They asked: Who sent me? They have handlers and until you are sent by the handlers, they suspect you…. The police were stopped by them twice. I am grateful to police for saving my life.”

(Reporters of this newspaper have never had to go through any “handlers” to speak to the protesters there. Journalists are normally asked for identification and, after Saturday’s firing, volunteers frisk those entering the venue. TV anchors of channels perceived as pro-establishment have been heckled.)

Kapoor added: “There is no question of a sting. Do they have something to hide? I was recording with my mobile phone.”

Asked about her pinned tweet of being followed by Prime Minister Modi, Kapoor said she was not a BJP member and pointed out that the Prime Minister followed several people.

The Prime Minister and some of his ministers had been criticised earlier for following several Twitter handles that put out hate speech.