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On November 15, 2021, a seven-second video of a Muslim eatery worker from Loni, Ghaziabad, was widely circulated on social media. It was shared by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and right-wing media handles like Kreately, who used it as ‘proof’ of something called #ThookJihad (‘thook’ is literally ‘spit’).
The next day, Aman Chopra, anchor of the news channel News18, held a debate based on this video in which he made blatantly Islamophobic statements and talked about ‘riwaz-e-thook’ (a purported ‘tradition of spitting’), suggesting a sinister conspiracy by Muslim street food workers against Hindus via the contamination of food.
The following day, November 17, Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed Chopra on Twitter.
Strangely, on November 18, the show and the tweets were quietly taken off Youtube and Twitter by the anchor and the news channel. Since independent fact-checkers and the news website Newslaundry have already done a detailed takedown of the show, which is filled with anti-Muslim hatred and misinformation, the focus of this report is only on that seven-second video and the Hindu Raksha Dal (HRD) men who shot it.
INCOMING: How Aman Chopra made up a #ThookJihad conspiracy by using false & misleading videos to spit out his hate on minorities.
His panelists joined in with comments on how Muslims might be urinating in Daal and Sabzi.
All of this on a ‘news’ channel.
>>> @newslaundry <<<
— meghnad 🔗 (@Memeghnad) November 18, 2021
The November 15 video
The video shows a skullcap-wearing worker at a ‘Muslim hotel’ baking chapatis in a tandoor and alleged that this worker had spat on the chapatis. Amit Prajapati, state chief of the HRD, told The Wire, “This is not a communal conflict. The food at the eatery is eaten by both Muslims and Hindus. We do not want people to fall prey to any disease during this epidemic (sic). When a worker of the Hindu Raksha Dal passed by, he saw this person repeatedly spitting in rotis and made a video of him. Later, when our workers went to the hotel at about 5 pm, he misbehaved with them, so we called the police. The police took him into custody.”
However, the commentary in the video belies Prajapati’s claim that this was not a communal issue.
Sumit Sood, the HRD worker who uploaded the video of the incident, said in the video: “This is for those Hindus who come and eat with these pigs [Muslims]. You come and eat their spit daily. The more you boycott these mullahs, the better. To all my brothers [this is a message] to not eat with these pigs. They feed you filth.”
In the background of the video is the eatery in question, which appears to have been vandalised. The Muslim man in the video is now in jail, based on a criminal complaint filed by Sood and other members of the HRD.
Strangely, this is not the first time that a member of the HRD has passed by street-side eatery in the area and spotted a Muslim man spitting on rotis.
“Earlier, a similar video was sent to our state convener, Sisodiya ji. Our workers went there and took action,” Prajapati said.
This video, posted by members of the HRD in October shows a mob chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ outside a shop near Bhatia Chowk and pushing a man, perhaps a worker, after a Muslim man purportedly committed ‘thook jihad’. The first information report (FIR) filed by Sisodiya alleged that two other eateries in the neighbourhood were part of the ‘thook jihad’ conspiracy. Coincidentally, News18 had also shared this video, describing how the HRD workers’ protest led to the arrest of a man named Tamizuddin.
Pinky Chaudhury, chief of the HRD, along with Sood had posted this video on their social media handles a month before Sood found himself in the same circumstances with another Muslim man in the town.
Both the videos say that when men related to the HRD saw a Muslim chapati-maker commit what they call ‘thook jihad’ and intervened, Muslim men allegedly abused and attacked them, leading the Hindutva men to call the police.
“Jai Shri Ram to all my brothers. I have been saying this (sic) for a long time that no Hindu should eat at Muslim eateries because they want to defile our faith…Boycott these people with a Jihadi mind-set,” Chaudhury wrote on Facebook, sharing a News18 report on the incident.
Many campaigns, many coincidences
On Tuesday, November 16, a large ‘Hanuman Chalisa protest’ was organised by members of the HRD near the Shiv Mandir in the area to stop meat eateries from “hurting Hindu sentiments”.
“The people working there misbehave with the devotees and throw leftovers of chicken, so we have demanded that the administration close the shops,” Prajapati told The Wire.
Sood called upon Hindus to attend the reading in large numbers to send a strong message to vidharmis (a derogatory term for Muslims and Christians, meaning traitors of the Hindu religion). Last month, The Wire had covered the group’s vigilante drive to shut down meat shops in Bulandshahr during Navratri, a campaign endorsed by Sisodiya, the complainant in the Tamizuddin case.
Interestingly, one of the panellists on Chopra’s November 15 TV debate was former Delhi BJP spokesperson Ashwini Upadhyay, who had been arrested in August, 2021 in connection with the Jantar Mantar hate rally in which calls to economically cripple and kill Muslims were made.
“In thook jihadiyon ko ya toh maa baap sikha rahe hai ya koi school mein jaa rahe hai (These thook jihadis are either being taught all this by their parents or at their schools),” Upadhyay said on the show. He even suggested that Muslim men may be mixing other body fluids in the food they prepare, Newslaundry reported.
The men who happened to be present at the two different spots in less than a month in Ghaziabad’s Loni where ‘thook jihad’ was committed are all HRD workers. Their leader, Chaudhury, had been arrested along with Upadhyay after the Jantar Mantar hate rally in August. The other accused in the hate rally case have also been involved in a sustained campaign to boycott Muslims for the last two years.
The Wire has covered the boycott campaign extensively. In June, 2021, a Muslim man was assaulted in Uttam Nagar by an armed mob allegedly chanting Jai Shri Ram during protests by the same group against rehdi (street vendor) jihad and fruit jihad. Hindutva supporters had organised a Hanuman Chalisa protest against Muslim fruit sellers there as well.
At the Jantar Mantar rally, open calls had been made to target Muslim businesses and pamphlets against the community were circulated. “No matter who comes to power, we will not allow Muslims to rise. We are in the process of awakening our youth. We will get mullahs out of graves and finish them from their roots. Wait for April 2, you will see we will create a situation where Muslims have to either convert to Hinduism or they will be sent to Pakistan,” Chaudhury had said at the Jantar Mantar rally.
Chaudhury also claimed responsibility for the attack on JNU students on January 5, 2020. On several occasions, he threatened genocidal violence against Muslims. He had announced a bounty on the head of Amanatullah Khan, a member of the Delhi legislative assembly from the Aam Aadmi Party. He admitted on live TV that it was his men who had raised genocidal slogans at the August 8 Jantar Mantar protest. Meanwhile, he spewed more hate against Islam, the Quran and Muslims on the shows that hosted him. In the Jantar Mantar case, he only surrendered to the police 20 days after absconding, on September 1.
In UP’s Meerut, a man allegedly seen spitting on dough before putting it to bake at a function was roughed up by locals. He was identified after a local outfit Hindu Jagran Manch brought up the issue before police.
Video via @sachingupta787pic.twitter.com/e7gzpSkvkn
— Piyush Rai (@Benarasiyaa) February 20, 2021
In 2020, one Naushad was arrested for ‘thook jihad’ by the Uttar Pradesh police in Meerut on the complaint of Hindu Jagran Manch leader Sachin Sirohi. Naushad had first been assaulted by members of the group and then arrested under the National Security Act (NSA). Later, the NSA charges were dropped and he was released on bail. However, all chapati shops refused to hire him, fearing a backlash. Naushad has always denied spitting in the food, but he spent three months in jail. In 2020, following the Tablighi Jamaat episode, many Muslims were targeted and accused of spreading the COVID-19 virus.
FIR registered by the woman:
She says she was drinking cold-drink with Salman and one other friend when Sachin Sirohi and his men came and forced them to beat Salman and also to register complaint against him. pic.twitter.com/9dRixgAwHl
— Kaushik Raj (@kaushikrj6) September 19, 2021
Just like his colleagues of the HRD who keep stumbling upon instances of ‘thook jihad’, Sirohi and his men claim the ability to spot ‘love jihad’ as they walk the streets. On one occasion, they found “a love jihadi harassing a Hindu woman” while they were walking down a street. The man was assaulted and the woman was forced to hit him with her shoes while the vigilantes filmed the act. Later, the woman filed a police complaint against the Hindutva men for the violence.
On November 19, Jeet Vashisht, another member of the Hindu Jagran Manch, uploaded a video of himself harassing and manhandling a worker at a Muslim biryani stall. In the video, he accused the worker of urinating in the food, a charge the man repeatedly denied. Later in the video, he accused another man of food contamination and threatened to call the police on the biryani stall. Last month, The Wire had covered Vashisht and his group forcibly shutting down meat shops and non-vegetarian eateries during a vigilante drive on Navratri.
‘Absurdly malicious vigilantism’
On condition of anonymity, a worker at a popular non-vegetarian eatery in Delhi told The Wire, “Nobody spits in the food or chapatis. Sometimes a cook blows extra dry flour on the bread so that it can be stuck properly inside the tandoor. These videos are false stories meant to spread hatred.”
A roti shop owner in Lucknow said, “I don’t want to explain anything. You can come and record a video to know the process. This is a laughable accusation.”
The Wire also reached out to the owner of the Muslim eatery in the October video. He declined to comment on the issue.
A tweet posted by the Ghaziabad police said about the November 15 incident: “A social media video of a man spitting on roti before putting it in the tandoor has gone viral.” The tweet included a video of a police officer saying: “During the investigation, it was found out that the video was of the Muslim hotel which is located near the Bathlana flyover in the Loni police station area. The suspect was apprehended and will be questioned further. Police will take appropriate legal action to ensure that no one’s feelings are hurt in the future.”
Retired Indian Police Service officer and author N.C. Asthana told The Wire that similar allegations of contamination of various food items had been raised in the past also, especially since the pandemic began and not one of them had been found to be true or successfully prosecuted, thereby proving that the rumours and the visuals were spread with the purpose of disturbing communal harmony.
“That this bogey has been raised again proves the never-say-die attitude of the hate-mongers. The nation cannot allow this sort of absurdly malicious vigilantism,” Asthana said.
He questioned how the police can ascertain and attribute the motive of promoting enmity between two communities on just the basis of a complainant’s version of the story.
“Can a video clip which is a few seconds long and does not show the impugned act clearly be held to be credible information for the purpose of registering a case? If someone merely did as much as to sneeze and was caught on camera sneezing, it could again be alleged that he purposefully did not clean his hands to promote enmity. Obviously, there is no end to this sort of stupidity,” he added.