New Delhi: Members of Facebook group ‘Clean the Nation’ were awarded a prize for social media journalism by an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The group was felicitated by Union Minister Smriti Irani and RSS joint general secretary Manmohan Vaidya at the Narad Samman ceremony for journalism awards held at the India International Centre in New Delhi.
Last Saturday, the group was awarded the Social Media Patrakarita Narad Samman, instituted by RSS-affiliate Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra (IVSK).
A report by Scroll.in in February detailed how the Facebook group was started in the aftermath of the terror attack in Pulwama with the aim of “cleaning and weeding out anti nationals” as laid out by its administrator Ashutosh Vashishtha. Another group administrator, Ankit Jain, is followed on Twitter by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
‘Clean the Nation’ was created as a Facebook group two days after the terror attack in Pulwama and has claimed to have successfully targeted more than 50 people by filing complaints about their anti-government social media posts.
While the group was reportedly taken down on Facebook, its Twitter handle @CleanTheNation1 has since amassed over 7,000 followers.
Team “Clean The Nation” has been awarded with “देवरिशि नारद पत्रकार सम्मान” by Honourable @smritiirani ji & Sah Sarkarywah Dr Manmohan Vaidya ji
A special thanks to you all who supported us during the movement.
— Clean The Nation (@CleanTheNation1) June 29, 2019
Secretary of the RSS-affiliated IVSK, Vagish Issar told the Indian Express that, “We gave the award to them because we saw how much this group loves the nation. Many people love the nation, but some people love it actively.”
The group’s accomplishments
Although the group was deleted two days after its inception in the aftermath of Pulwama, for the short duration that it was active, it claimed to have targeted more than 50 people by filing complaints about their social media posts and eliciting a range of official actions.
In the first video that mobilised members of the group across social media in February, core member Madhur Singh said, “This is not a time to change your DPs and take out candle marches.”
Wearing a shirt with Indian Army written across it, he said “Find out who is laughing at our soldiers today… Contact their employers. Contact the universities they are studying in … Screw them up this way. Get them terminated from their jobs. Get them suspended from their universities.”
Singh later told the Indian Express that his team focused on collecting information through Facebook because it has the most personal location details. CTN core members claimed that the group’s online mobilisation efforts led to “roughly 45 actions” against “anti-Indians”.
Soon after the group’s formation, in a tweet posted on February 19, BJP MP from East Delhi Maheish Girri praised the administrators of the Facebook group for targeting ‘anti-nationals’ who were posting on social media in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack.
Several students and employees were targeted for comments made on social media platforms immediately after the terror attack in Pulwama and the following Balakot air strikes. Several students from Kashmir were targeted and harassed across several colleges. However, since then, most authorities and police officials had withdrawn their action since no criminal case was made out.
The group’s targets included an associate professor at a college in Guwahati, Papri Banerjee, against whom the police filed two cases, even as she went missing after being bombarded with rape and death threats.
She told the Indian Express that she had fled her home that day because of “media hounding” and returned at the end of the month when reporters had dropped the story. She said that college management had told her to wait for a final decision on her suspension, but she was yet to hear from them on the status of her position.
In Rajasthan, four Kashmiri students, who found themselves in the group’s crosshairs, were suspended by their college for a WhatsApp status update following the Pulwama terror attack and were booked under Sections 124A (sedition) and 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) of the IPC.
Later, SHO Vikrant Sharma told the Indian Express that “no offence [was] made out against them” after the investigation. The students have since been reinstated and have appeared for their annual examinations.
In Jaipur, a man was arrested and charged under sections of the IPC and IT Act for a Facebook post regarding Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. He is currently out on bail and awaiting the conclusion of the investigation after spending three days in police custody.
In another instance, an MBA student from IIMT College of Engineering in Greater Noida was suspended for a Facebook post. The student claimed that the account was not his and the police later sent a letter saying that the student was “not involved in any kind of supervised criminal activity”. The student, however, has not returned to college since and has missed his examination.