It's impossible to be active on political Twitter in India and not come across Saket Gokhale's profile. A vehement critic of the current regime - who cites Rahul Gandhi as his 'inspiration' - Gokhale can often be seen sharing legal documents or fighting supporters of the current dispensation.
The journalist-turned-activist, who launched a 'campaign to take down hate-speech mongers' in December last year, has managed to raise more than Rs 22 lakh to take on 'BJP's hate machine'. The funds are being raised through a website called Our Democracy.
Saket Gokhale/ Twitter Screenshot
Gokhale says he intends to use the funds accrued to pay for the expenses of people working for his campaign.
Appealing on Twitter, he had written, "If you feel what I do is important enough and deserves support, please do help out and contribute. I am but one person & I cannot do this without your support."
A Twitter user had earlier written to him asking him to acknowledge that the Our Democracy fundraiser had raised Rs 22.8 lakh.
Speaking about the campaign, he told The Free Press Journal, "The campaign essentially is what we see around us. A person in a powerful position might not do those acts themselves but when you make inciteful (sic) statements, it creates hatred. There is no way one can predict who is going to go out tomorrow and commit a crime, but what is important is that we have laws in the country that put reasonable restrictions on free speech and that criminalises inciting people on religious lines."
"While India has laws against inciting people on religious grounds, these laws are not followed when it comes to powerful people. There are people in powerful position who get away with anything without any accountability of their words," he added.
The campaign, he stated, wants to hold people culpable. "This can only happen when people are aware of the law. Most are not aware of what is the process of filing an FIR, which are the relevant laws that criminalise hate speech," he added.
Serial RTI activist
Speaking about the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Gokhale, who has filed nearly 40 RTIs against the government, said: "Similarly, we have RTI which allows people to get information, hold the ministers responsible for the statements that they make."
The campaign has so far raised Rs 22 lakh and will be used to cover expenses of people working along with him as a part of the campaign. As per the campaign's website, Topsy Mathew is the top donor to the cause with a donation of Rs 1 lakh.
He also referred to PM Narendra Modi not speaking to media or holding any press conferences ever since he came into power in 2014. "Today what we see is that our Prime Minister is not holding any press conference. We have also seen a massive muzzling of the press where questions that are not acceptable by the ruling party are not taken up. They demand questions in advance...they get questions, they reject questions."
He said that RTI is a tool to get these people on record and expose the hypocrisy of what a minister says versus what is the actual ground reality. "This is precisely how I have been using the RTI Act," he said.
Recently, after Air India banned stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra from flying with them for heckling Republic editor Arnab Goswami while aboard a Mumbai-Lucknow IndiGo flight, Gokhale filed an RTI with Air India seeking documents related to the ban imposed on Kamra.
Claiming there were foreigners in India working for BJP, he said that Tarek Fatah and Dr David Frawley are "major proponents of religious hate speech."
Gokhale filed an RTI with the Home Ministry to inquire if "political/religious activities were permitted on a visa."
Similarly, in a recent incident, Jakob Lindenthal, German student of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras was asked to leave India days after he attended a protest against the Citizenship Amendment. He had carried a poster that made a reference to the Nazi rule in his own country: “1933 to 1945 – we have been there.”
Gokhale also took to Twitter and said that the RTI filed by him were "disposed off."
In a response to the RTI filed regarding "tukde-tukde gang", the Home Ministry said "they did not have any information concerning tukde-tukde gang."
Responding to this, he said "The tukde tukde gang does not officially exist and is merely a figment of Amit Shah's imagination."
Gokhale, who is also one of the petitioners in SC against the CAA and NRC, had been denied permission to protest against the communal forces at Jamia Millia Islamia University.
However, he claimed, that Delhi police had been given him permission to hold a rally chanting "Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko."
Gokhale has never hidden his political affiliations and claims he has been 'inspired' by former Congress president Rahul Gandhi. He had written in 2019 that it was only because of Rahul Gandhi could he ever dream of 'working in public service'.
In order to create awareness about hate speech, Gokhale is slated to visit Kolkata on February 15.
"The visit to Kolkata aims to create awareness about hate speech and conduct a workshop on the laws that criminalises hate speech," he said.
"This is a part of my campaign where I will meet people to discuss the issue," he added.
His activism has also found supporters online.
Former Amnesty India chief Aakar Patel wrote:
Actor and activist Swara Bhasker had also asked people to donate to his cause.
Interestingly, he has also clashed with Anurag Kashyap over the former's criticism of the Gandhi family.
Gokhale, a former foreign correspondent at Financial Times, quit journalism a year-and-a-half ago to work for the public. He is the son of former Mumbai police senior Inspector Suhas Gokhale. Earlier, he had asked the former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis "why his father was denied a promotion after passed by the home department." Suhas Gokhale was arrested in a drug frame within days of his promotion being granted.
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