New Delhi: Pushp Sharma, the investigative journalist who authored a story in Milli Gazette about the Union government allegedly not appointing Muslims as yoga teachers and trainers “as a matter of official policy” for foreign assignments during International Yoga Day last year, was taken in for questioning by the Delhi police on Tuesday. He was let off after being interrogated for nearly four hours in connection with the article, which the government had termed as “false and mischievous,” and told to return to the police station in the morning.
Though Sharma’s story had quoted from a document he said he had received from the Ministry of AYUSH in response to a right to information query, the AYUSH minister, Shripad Naik denied such an RTI reply was ever given and had described the story as an attempt to defame the Narendra Modi government.
The Press Information Bureau had also put out a statement alleging that “the contents regarding religion based data in the so-called Annexure-I [of the RTI reply] are not only fabricated but factually incorrect also.” Both the PIB and the minister had stated that the ministry would be “initiating appropriate action in the matter.”
However, Sharma had stood his ground and claimed that the information he had cited in his Milli Gazette story was provided by the ministry itself.
In perhaps the first case of a reporter or RTI activist being summoned by the police for circulating information that he or she maintains was obtained through the RTI process, Sharma was picked up by a team of South District policemen on Tuesday evening. Sharma said he was taken to the Kotla Mubarakpur Police Station around 7:20 p.m. Though he managed to send a few messages to some of his journalist friends, he subsequently became incommunicado.
It was only after around four hours of questioning that Sharma was finally released. He told The Wire that at the Kotla Mubarakpur police station he was questioned by the station house officer and an investigating officer. The deputy commissioner of police (South District) was regularly on the phone line monitoring the investigation but never came before him.
To begin with, Sharma said the police personnel simply accused him of running a fake story. “They claimed that they are in possession of a complaint from the ministry, but never showed it to me. All they had as supporting documents was just one RTI query with some replies. They insisted that I had fabricated a reply and asked me who was behind me and who was funding me. They only mellowed down after I told them that I have been filing RTI applications for the past 10 years and have been regularly doing stories on that basis.”
“As for the story on the International Yoga Day, I told them that it too was based on an RTI reply and I have documents to support my claims. Then later at night they asked me to go and return with all the RTI applications and replies which I possess. I have been asked to be at the police station again at 11 am on Wednesday.”
Attempts to contact the Delhi Police spokesperson, special commissioner Taj Hasan, and DCP South Prem Nath, did not meet with success. The Wire sent messages to both officers on their mobile phones but there was no response.