Senior RSS and BJP leaders, including RSS joint general secretary Manmohan Vaidya and Union Minister Smriti Irani, were in attendance
The media arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in an award ceremony on June 29, honoured a group of men who went after "anti-nationals" on Facebook and Twitter after the February 14 Pulwama terror attack.
According to a report by The Indian Express, Clean The Nation (CTN), which started off as a Facebook group after the Pulwama attack on Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans, was awarded the Social Media Patrakarita Narad Samman.
The award was instituted by Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra (IVSK), affiliated with the RSS.
The awards ceremony, called the Narad Samman Ceremony for journalism awards, was held at the India International Centre in New Delhi. Senior RSS and BJP leaders, including RSS joint general secretary Manmohan Vaidya and Union Minister Smriti Irani, were in attendance.
"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," Vagish Issar, secretary of IVSK, told the newspaper.
The group's 'active' love for the nation, the report states, included getting those they claimed were "anti-national" arrested, suspended and, in one case, fired from their job.
According to the report, CTN was formed on February 15, and most of its activity was spread over the next two days, by which time they claimed to have gathered about 4,500 followers on Facebook. The report states that while Facebook and Twitter— where also the CTN opened its account— tried to take down their handles, it was unable to do so.
In its first video message, one of the group's core members, Madhur Singh, had said the time had come "not just to change your display pictures (DP's) and take out candle marches". Instead, he urged members to "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."
The IE report states that that is exactly what the group did over the following days.
For instance, an MBA student was suspended from IIMT College of Engineering in Greater Noida for a Facebook post that he wrote.
According to Sanjay Pachauri, the chief proctor who signed the suspension order, the student was on a break in Kashmir at that time, and he sent an email and a WhatsApp message to the student after being alerted about the post. The student told Pachauri that it was not his account since it had a different spelling.
A suspension order was issued against the student, and he was directed to lodge an FIR regarding his 'hacked' account. The student then sent a copy of the FIR to Pachauri and, on February 19, the police station sent a letter informing that the student was "not involved in any kind of supervised criminal activity". The student, according to the report, has not returned to the college yet.
Another instance, this time in Jaipur, was when a 32-year-old man was arrested for a Facebook post on Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Varthaman, an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot, was captured by Pakistani security forces after he ejected from his aircraft following an air duel between Indian and Pakistani war jets.
The man, who was charged under sections of the IPC and the IT Act, is currently out on bail, according to the report. "I spent three days in police custody and seven days in judicial custody. Right now, I am out on bail and have appeared in court a few times. The police are yet to conclude their investigation," the man told the newspaper.
In Jaipur itself, four girls hailing from Kashmir and studying at NIMS university, were suspended on February 16 for a WhatsApp status update that was deemed as celebratory. According to the report, local residents and students protested against the students, and the girls were subsequently suspended for being "anti-national".
While the university had then called their actions "grave" and "serious in nature", an investigation following an FIR showed that they had committed no offence.
"We investigated the case and concluded that no offence is made out against them. We then submitted our report in the court," Station House Officer (SHO) Vikrant Sharma told the newspaper, stating that none of the girls were arrested at any point.
"We revoked their suspension order," NIMS Deputy Registrar Sushila Chahar, who had lodged the FIR, said. "Since then, the girls have also appeared in their annual examination," he added.
In Srinagar, the human resources (HR) department of a car dealership firm disputed the authenticity of a termination letter produced by CTN as one of their achievements. The employee who the letter claims was fired for posting "unlawful and discriminational comments", is still employed by the company, the report states.
"Because of this drama, I had lots of problems at home. I don’t want to talk about this anymore," the employee told the newspaper. On their part, members of the CTN maintain that the documents they produced are genuine.
"These documents came from our shared Google Docs. How can it be fake?" one of the group's core members, Ashutosh Vashishtha, said."Many organisations said these people don’t work here, and then when we went to check, we saw that they were hiding their employees to protect their reputation. This document is definitely verified," Vashishtha added.