Sabrina Siddiqui: The WSJ reporter attacked for questioning Modi on democracy

BJP supporters and right-wing trolls are harassing Siddiqui for her question to PM Narendra Modi on the treatment of minorities in India while he was attending a press conference at the White House

Wall Street Journal reporter Sabrina Siddiqui poses a question to PM Modi at the White House press conference on June 22. (Photo: Getty Images)
Wall Street Journal reporter Sabrina Siddiqui poses a question to PM Modi at the White House press conference on June 22. (Photo: Getty Images)

NH Digital

American journalist Sabrina Siddiqui, who questioned India’s prime minister Narendra Modi on the growing instances of hate crimes and religious intolerance against Muslims and other religious minorities in his nation, is being trolled and harassed by right-wing groups and BJP supporters.

During his ‘first official state visit’ to the United States, Modi who is known for evading media interactions, addressed the press alongside president Joe Biden at the White House on June 22. 

Posing her question, the Wall Street Journal reporter had asked: “India has long prided itself as the world’s largest democracy but there are many human rights groups who say your government has discriminated against religious minorities and sought to silence its critics. What steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and uphold free speech?”

In his response, Modi said that “democracy is in India’s DNA”. Dismissing the remark and stating that he was “surprised” by the question, he said that there is no space for discrimination in  India. “We live in a democracy. And our ancestors have actually put words to this concept, and that is in the form of our Constitution. The entire country runs on that. We have always proved that democracy can deliver, and when I say deliver, this is regardless of caste, creed, religion, or gender. There is absolutely no space for discrimination,” he added.

Shortly after the press conference was aired, Siddiqui was subjected to online abuse. Right-wing trollers called her question “motivated” and attacked her as a “Pakistani Islamist”.

“Pakistani Islamist at Wall Street Journal ambushed Modi at press conference today [June 22]. This lying hater Sabrina Siddiqui has never in her life said 1 word about Pakistan’s brutal repression and assaults on women, minorities. She only attacks India. Hate is in DNA of Pakistanis,” read a viral tweet.

On the same day, former US president Barack Obama, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour from CNN, also urged Biden to question Modi on the treatment of Muslim minorities in India. While BJP leaders like finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma criticised Obama, several Twitter users attacked Siddique and Obama in the same vein.

Siddiqui took to Twitter and clapped back at the trolls. “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, with two photographs in which she is wearing a blue jersey of the Indian cricket team, and an April 2011 picture with her father when India won the 2011 cricket World Cup. She also went private on Twitter following the massive trolling and urged 

She had been called upon by Biden to be a part of the press conference discussing India-US bilateral ties among other things. She is known for covering the White House as well as the presidency of Joe Biden. Born in the United States to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother, Siddique has been defined as one of the finest and the most unbiased reporters by WSJ. 

Activists, journalists, and observers, in general, have slammed the “ruthless harassment” the WSJ reporter is being subjected to “for simply doing her job” — bringing under scrutiny the current state of free speech and press freedom in India under Modi’s governance.

The White House on Monday, June 26, condemned the online harassment campaign and the vitriol against Siddiqui. “We're aware of the reports of that harassment. It's unacceptable. And we absolutely condemn any harassment of journalists anywhere under any circumstances. That's completely unacceptable. And it’s antithetical to the very principles of democracy that were on display last week during the state visit,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. 

“We're certainly here, at the White House, under this administration, committed to the freedom of the press, which is why we had the press conference last week. We certainly condemn any efforts of intimidation or harassment of a journalist or any journalist that is just trying to do their job. And so, I just want to be very clear about that,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

The South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) also defended Siddiqui. “We want to express our continued support of our colleague Sabrina Siddiqui who, like many South Asian and female journalists, is experiencing harassment for simply doing her job,” the group said on Twitter.

Formerly banned entry inside the US for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots which killed thousands of Muslims, Modi’s US visit has been boycotted and condemned by several diaspora groups, US lawmakers, activists and civil society members for the prevalence of hate crimes against the religious minority, the deteriorating state of press freedom, the range of political prisoners, and the crackdown on dissent in India.

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