On the evening of 6 February, the X handle of video maker Rachit Kaushik, @Sabloktantra, reported that he was arrested by Punjab Police cops in plainclothes while he was returning with his niece to the venue of her wedding from a shop. The news stirred the non-left Indian users of the social media platform. Soon, an FIR claiming to be the one against Kaushik went viral on WhatsApp.
What we have come to know of the specious case of Punjab Police against Kaushik so far is confusing. Sections 295A, 153, 153A and 504 of the going-to-be-obsolete Indian Penal Code and Section 67 of the IT Act have reportedly been slapped on Kaushik. As reported by OpIndia, however, it’s a case against ‘No Conversion’ (X handle @noconversion), which is why the sections of hurting religious sentiments and instigating riots have been slapped. The only connection between the profile with the partially hidden face of a woman and Kaushik is that ‘she’ had reposted one of his posts. The FIR was lodged by a certain Christian woman with a Muslim-sounding name, Alisha Sultan, who claims to be a pastor.
The police of AAP-ruled Punjab seem to have exploited this tenuous connection between ‘No Conversion’ and ‘SabLoktantra’ to settle their score with the latter for his satirical take on Arvind Kejriwal’s alleged corruption of benefiting his son Pulkit Kejriwal unduly through taxpayers’ money. This explains why charges unrelated to Kaushik’s act — Sections 295A, 153 and 153A — were slapped on him. Section 295A is about hurting religious sentiments; Section 153 is about instigating riots and Section 153A is for wanton vilification or attacks on a religion. None of these can apply to the Kaushik-made video on the use of treadmills by the Delhi chief minister’s son.
As for Sections 504 and 67, Kaushik can easily plead innocence in a court of law — and before that, get bail — because the allegations are not a figment of his imagination. The issue his video points to had been circulating on social media already before he made that video. On 15 June 2023, Punjab Police had tried to arrest ‘Maithun’ (@Being_Humor) who lives in Madhya Pradesh. ‘Maithun’, in turn, had asked if the accusation — that Kejriwal Jr earned Rs 10 lakhs per month while studying at IIT Delhi — made by @NamdeoOm was true.
Curiously, first, media reports dated 2010 had a similar allegation against Suresh Kalmadi of the Commonwealth Games scandal infamy — that taxpayers’ money was wasted on hiring a treadmill for 45 days at a cost of nearly Rs 10 lakh (Rs 9,75,000 to be precise). After more than a decade, the accusation was slapped on Pulkit Kejriwal while the rental for a treadmill underwent no inflation!
Second, the mainstream media reports, which spoke of Arvind Kejriwal’s ‘sheeshmahal’, which inspired the treadmill story, mention no treadmill. This columnist checked The Economic Times, The Indian Express and Times Now reports. The ‘sheeshmahal‘ story does not mention treadmills of rental Rs 10 lakh and the stories that mention such costly treadmills are related to the corrupt handling of the Commonwealth Games of 2010.
Considering the two factors above together, the case against Kaushik is at best a case of defamation. But defamation does not call for an arrest, at least not until a court establishes that the accused deliberately resorted to slander. Kaushik is legally safe.
While I have a copy of the FIR against ‘No Conversion’ and — in effect — Kaushik, I am not sharing the document because it contains some personal information of the accused. Sharing would amount to doxxing.
One may recall a similar case against BJP activist Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga nearly two years ago. Punjab Police had arrested him on the morning of 6 May 2022 based on a complaint registered with its cybercell that he had made provocative statements, spread rumours and tried to create religious and communal disharmony.
Tajinder’s father Pritpal Singh Bagga said that day, “Around 10-15 Punjab Police cops barged into my home In the morning. They punched me in the face when I tried making a video of the arrest. They took away my phone. At 8:30 AM, they dragged Tajinder outside. They didn’t even allow him to wear a proper turban.” Kaushik was dragged out of his car and whisked away in what seems to be a Punjab Police copybook fashion last evening.
Then there is a difference. Being a member of the BJP, Bagga successfully mobilised functionaries of the party ruling at the Centre and also managing the Haryana government. The who’s who of BJP condemned the police action promptly and Delhi Police registered a case of kidnapping. Before Punjab Police could reach Punjab, their team was intercepted by Delhi Police and Haryana Police.
Kaushik, being a sympathiser at best and not a part of the BJP, could not have made the Uttar Pradesh administration spring to its feet when he was ‘abducted’ from Muzaffarnagar.
Kaushik is placed in a position worse than that of BJP karyakartas of West Bengal when they were left to fend for themselves since their party’s defeat in the 2021 state elections, after which Trinamool Congress’s henchmen allegedly raided their homes, raped women, killed men and publicly humiliated turncoats for campaigning for the chief opposition party in the state. When Bagga was arrested by Punjab Police and rescued by Delhi Police, Trinamool’s alleged hooligans were still committing atrocities against BJP’s Bengal unit workers with vengeance. People wondered why the national party that could act within 12 hours in north India did not give a damn for more than a year in east India.
Kaushik is worse off also because identifying him as a BJP sympathiser might arguably be wrong. Of late, he has been critical of the party. His criticisms, of course, came not from a typical leftist standpoint but from a Hindutva perspective.
Such critics of the current regime are a minuscule breed. If ever they have a brush with the law, neither the pathologically hateful left nor the pro-government, not-so-right wing would come to their rescue. Kaushik has worked for a company where Baba Ramdev is the mascot. No statement has come from Patanjali so far either. With their limited resources, the Kaushik family needs an effective lawyer who alone can extricate him from the mess. In the latest development in the case, a local court has ordered two days of police remand for him. I worry and pray for my friend of many years.