New Delhi: Sabrina Siddiqui, the White House correspondent of the Wall Street Journal who asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi a question on alleged discrimination of minorities in India during his visit to the US, came under a targeted attack from pro-Hindutva social media users, particularly on Twitter.
The online attack on Siddiqui, highlighting her Muslim heritage and connections to Pakistan by dint of having a parent from that country, was led by the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s information cell, Amit Malviya. Taking to Twitter, Malviya called Sabrina’s question “motivated” and that she was given a “fitting answer” by Modi which, according to him, was a “blow” to the “toolkit gang” – a pejorative phrase used by the ruling party’s IT cell head to refer to those who have questioned the BJP and the prime minister on different issues, including discrimination against Muslims.
At the press conference in the White House, Sidduqe asked Modi, “India has long prided itself as the world’s largest democracy, but there are many human rights groups who say that your government has discriminated against religious minorities and sought to silence its critics. As you stand here in the East Room of the White House, where so many world leaders have made commitments to protecting democracy, what steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and to uphold free speech?”
It was a rare moment in Modi’s tenure as prime minister when a journalist could pose a question to him, let alone on alleged human rights violations of minorities in India. Modi, in response, expressed “surprise” that people thought minorities during his regime were being discriminated against. “Democracy is our spirit. Democracy runs in our veins. We live democracy…our government has taken the basic principles of democracy…we have always proved that democracy can deliver. And when I say deliver, this is regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender. There is absolutely no space for discrimination.”
Soon, Twitter handles that are overtly pro-BJP and pro-Hindutva went after Siddiqui, labelling her as a ‘Pakistani Islamist’; some saw a conspiracy also in her employer allowing her to pose that question to Modi. “She only attacks India. Hate is in DNA of Pakistanis (sic),” said one such Twitter handle.
Pro-BJP websites like OpIndia went a step ahead by publishing a report that she is the daughter of “Pakistani parents” and is “echoing the claims of Islamists.”
“For the uninitiated, the journalist who went on to pose the cleverly manufactured question echoing the claims of Islamists and left-liberals; alleging persecution of Muslims in India, was none other than Sabrina Siddique….is the daughter of Pakistani parents.”
To ward off online attacks calling her ‘anti-India’, Siddiqui posted a photograph on her Twitter handle cheering for the Indian cricket team along with her India-born father. “Since some have chosen to make a point of my personal background, it feels only right to provide a fuller picture. Sometimes identities are more complex than they seem,” she wrote.
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