- This painting a target on every Muslim has led to a hospital in Uttar Pradesh putting up a board saying it will not treat Muslim patients, an economic boycott of Muslim businesses and even banning the entry of poor Muslims who sell vegetables in entire areas.
- Fake news can kill.
Three men, including two sadhus (ascetics), were lynched to death in India in Palghar, Maharashtra, in front of police because of rumours of organ harvesting.
Rumours and maliciously created fake news spread on steroids by political parties, pushing them on an industrial level via messaging apps have real life consequences such as lynching and riots.
The consequences become graver as the world battles an infectious pandemic. The Palghar lynching is illustrative. It shows the power of rumours as people are terrified and irrational and the world’s most draconian lockdown currently on an extended run in India is now difficult to enforce.
After I worked on my investigative book “I am Troll” Inside the BJP’s Secret Digital Army, I acquired a reluctant expertise on how fake news is made mass reality by a political party.
The fake news pushed invariably has a communal colour dressed up with fake videos to create fear and enmity.
Let’s consider how the Tablighi Jamaat’s criminally irresponsible decision to go ahead with its Delhi programme despite the coronavirus outbreak has played out. I monitor political parties What’sApp groups for professional reasons and there has been a deluge of videos claiming that Tablighi Jamaat’s members in quarantine have spat at nurses and doctors, misbehaved and tried to spread the virus.
How fake news is spun
This is helped along by various state governments and the Centre giving a separate number for infections caused by the Jamaat. Together it is the perfect storm to stigmatise Muslims and say they caused the spread of the disease. This painting a target on every Muslim has led to a hospital in Uttar Pradesh putting up a board saying it will not treat Muslim patients, an economic boycott of Muslim businesses and even banning the entry of poor Muslims who sell vegetables in entire areas.
People are terrified of an infectious illness, which has virtually made our world stop and driven indoors. In such a situation, most people want to blame someone rather than an invisible virus. In India, parties which seek power on the back of bigotry, have got a new lease of life.
Read more from Swati Chaturvedi
- COVID-19: And now it is ‘corona jihad’ in Narendra Modi’s hate-filled new India
- Even the coronavirus knows not to pester India’s rich and famous, the entitled bunch
- Coronavirus in India: Of Operation Diya and Narendra Modi’s Big Boss house
- Sorry my dear Bollywood actors, India’s poor are not your props for publicity
Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, who is currently missing in action and who himself is the subject of rumours, asking “where is Amit Shah,” had once told his IT cell: “I don’t care if it’s true or false. Just make it viral.” This was in relation to a fake news during the Uttar Pradesh elections that former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had slapped his father Mulayam Singh Yadav.
News channels in India, which act as tame BJP force multipliers, also excel in running communal propaganda. Thousands of destitute migrants gathered in Bandra hoping to go home after a channel showed “news” that trains would start running on April 20.
All norms of social distancing were broken and then the communal spin masters tried to claim that they had gathered outside a mosque. The fact that the mosque and a temple were both near the railway station was not relevant. Why let facts get in the way of a communal spin. The Uddhav Thackeray led government in Maharashtra arrested a reporter of a news channel for the fake news of the trains running.
Fake news can kill. It can lead to infection spreading. It can cause lynching. Please be responsible and don’t thoughtlessly press the forward button.