In wake of the coronavirus outbreak and an increasing number of infected patients linked to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation held in Delhi's Nizamuddin in March, Islamophobia has also been on the rise. And much of it has been fueled by fake news.
It all started when Nizamuddin was first reported as a COVID-19 "hotbed" after a congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat that took place in Bangalewaali Masjid, days before India went into a 21-day lockdown. Jamaatis came from across India as well as abroad, the latter possibly bringing the virus with them and spreading it around the Markhaz during the event. Many who had attended, soon started displaying COVID-19 symptoms. As many as 647 of the new cases were reported on Thursday and Friday had links to the religious congregation at Nizamuddin, as per the ministry of health and family welfare.
The rising cases, however, have brought with it an increase in fake news and Islamophobic propaganda as well. Since news of the Jamaat congregation being a COVID-19 cluster broke, a variety of fake news and rumours related to coronavirus have been spread against Muslims of India under hashtags such as #CORONAJIHAD and #NizamuddinIdiot
The flow of fake news was such that an independent documentary filmmaker Yousuf Saeed took to social media to compile a list of some of the most outrageous lies that have been masquerading as news over the media through the past week.
"This small list is intended to bust fake news and videos blaming a particular community for spreading Coronavirus," the Delhi-based filmmaker said. "We're not defending the Tableeghis for their carelessness," Saeed clarified, adding that the list was intended to counter fake news and propaganda, not to support the Jamaat's activities that led to the exacerbation of the COVID-19 crisis in the country.
News18.com has published some of the fake reports and clarifications published by Saeed on his Facebook timeline.
Fake News #1: Muslim vendor spitting on fruits to spread Coronavirus
This is next level. Be safe and careful people pic.twitter.com/OJhONjvUR3
— desi mojito (@desimojito) April 3, 2020
The video shot in Raisen, MP, started to circulate on social media after the Tablighi jamaat fiasco with many prominent right-wing as well as "liberal" voices attacking the community for deliberately spreading the virus. In the video, a Muslim fruit seller was seen licking his fingertips and touching fruits with it. While many outraged against the video as an attempt to spread coronavirus, a factcheck by AltNews revealed that the video was shot far back in February before coronavirus had been notified a public health emergency in India (March 14).
The man in the video was allegedly mentally unstable and had been caught on tape counting the fruits, not licking them. The footage was real and a police complaint was also filed against the fruit vendor. The fruit seller's act may display questionable hygiene and for that, he is being investigated. But Raisen Superintendent of Police confirmed that there was no cause for fear of him spreading the virus. In fact, no cases COVID-19 have been reported from Raisen yet. It seems the old video was twisted out of context and shared after the Tablighi Jamat incident with even television channels picking up the story of the "Corona-criminal".
Fake News #2: Muslims licking utensils to spread coronavirus
A video of Muslim youth licking utensils has been going viral with many claiming that COVID-19 infected Muslims were deliberately licking utensils to spread coronavirus. The claim has been debunked by a fact-check done by Boom as well as Newslaundry that pointed out that the video was from 2018. Moreover, it depicted members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect that includes "Daana (graind) committees". The community believes in zero food waste. The people seen in the video were part of one such Dawoodi Bohra Daana committee and were not licking clean plates but rather the plates they were eating in before washing the utensils. Licking plates clean after eating from them is a ritual prcatices by the community to ensure that no food is wasted and that all morsels of food are consumed before washing utensils one eats with. In the wake of the Jamatis testing COVID-19 positive, it seems some tried to give the old clip a communal twist.
Fake News #3: Muslims sneezing in unison to spread coronavirus
#NizamuddinIdiots they are not idiots like Kanika Kapoor they have hidden agenda What are they practicing here pic.twitter.com/8dPOswu1JS — nithin (@nithin42349592) April 1, 2020
Yet another video going viral with Islamophobic narratives is one showing Muslim devotees sitting on their knees and allegedly sneezing purposefully in unison to spread coronavirus. Many claimed the video was shot inside Delhi's Hazrat Nizamuddin mosque and March 31 onward the video has bene going viral in India.
However, a fact-check by AltNews found that the video was first shared on Pakistani social media on January 30 with similar claims of the group spreading coronavirus. It must be noted that the first case of coronavirus in India was recorded on Janbuary 30. AltNews noted that there was a possibility that the video was even older, though the fact-checkers could nor verify the origin of the video. Whether it was shot in Nizamuddin dargah or Nizamudding mosque, which is also known as the Banglewali Markhaz, also remains unverified.
Furthermore, internet searches revealed that the devotees were not sneezing in unison but rather performing the ritualistic "zikr" style of prayer - a Sufi ritual which involves taking the name of Allah several times in swift repetition while breathing in and out. Examining the video revealed that the devotees were not, in fact, sneezing but breathing in and out in sharp gusts. The fact-check also noted that it would be practically impossible for a large group such as the one in the video to coordinate their sneezes in such an accurate manner.
Fake News #4: Hindus denied rations in Karachi
Several videos of Hindus in Karachi, Pakistan, went viral with claims that Hindus were discriminated against during coronavirus crisis and not given government rations in Rehri Goth. The news appeared on an Indian news agency wire service and was picked up by all major digital news platforms. However, a fact-check conducted by Pakistani English newspaper The News International debunked the report as baseless, claiming that food ran out at the distribution site in Rehri Goth where the incident allegedly occurred. The report claimed that as supplies ran out, people from all religions were ubable to get food, not just Hindus. News18.com could not confirm the veracity of the report.
Fake News #5: Muslim man spitting at cops to escape quarantine/give him coronavirus
Video of a Muslim man spitting at a cops while being taken away in a police van went viral. It was claimed that the man had been picked up along with 166 others from Nizamuddin and taken to a quarantine centre in Tuglaqabad, Delhi, where news agencies like PTI reported some Muslims allegedly misbehaved with doctors and health officials. While several health officials and authorities, confirmed the incident, the video doing the rounds in the same context, however, was fake and was filmed not in Delhi but in Maharashtra. A factcheck by BBC Hindi found the footage dating back to earlier in March when the incident occurred in Thane. The man had allegedy spat at the cops after he was denied food. He was then beaten up by the police. The video had nothing to do with Nizamuddin detainees. Since the factcheck, many of the posts sharing the video have been removed.
— Mumbai Mirror (@MumbaiMirror) February 29, 2020
Fake News #6: Muslim cop beats Hindu priest in MP
कहा जा रहा है कि रीवा में मंदिर के पुजारी को शयन आरती करते समय पुलिस ने पीटा तथा पूजा का सामान बिखेर दिया,यहां के एस पी आबिद खान हैं,दोषी पुलिस वाले को तत्काल दण्डित किया जाए। pic.twitter.com/a6UKpV5Ppr— Vijay Shankar Tiwari (@VijayVst0502) April 3, 2020
Photos of a temple priest being beaten by lathi by a cop went viral with captions claiming the cop was Rewa SP Abid Khan. It was claimed that the priest was alone when the cop attacked him in the name of enforcing lockdown and also desecrated the temple. Rewa IG later revealed that the cop in the photo was not Rewa SP Abid Khan but police inspector Rajkumar Mishra. The incident took place during Ram Navami and fact-checks conducted by Lallantop, AltNews and local reports claim a large number of people had been flouting lockdown and gathering at the temple. Action has been initiated against Mishra.
Fake News #7: Muslim restaurant workers spitting in food to spread coronavirus
A 45-second video clip of a Muslim eatery worker "spitting" at food went viral. But a fact-check revealed that the video was not shot recently. In fact, the mystery video has been doing the rounds for over a year.
As the coronavirus pandemic infected more and more people, the video went viral first in the United Arab Emirates as well as in other countries with similar claims of the man deliberately spitting on food to spread coronavirus. It was alleged that the food shop was in Singapore but authorities there said they found no evidence of such a shop existing in the country at the location mentioned. The location of the stall or its date remains unknown but it was unlikely to have been shot in India. Moreover, Singapore authorities confirmed that the video had previously appeared in Singapore social media over a year ago, proving it had nothing to do with coronavirus.
Fake News #8: COVID-19 positive Muslim nationals from Iran and Italy hiding in Patna
#पटना के कुर्जी इलाके के 74 नंबर गली में अचानक से 2-3 गाड़ी में 25 से 30 की संख्या में विदेशी नागरिक जो जो की इटली और ईरान से कहा जा रहा है अचानक पहुंच गया है। स्थानीय लोगों ने पुलिस को सूचना दी है और पुलिस कुछ लोगो को जांच के लिए ले गई है। लेकिन ये अनर्थ क्यों ?@NitishKumar pic.twitter.com/aq7zmRDorQ — Mukesh Singh@ANI (@Mukesh_Journo) March 23, 2020
Earlier in March, news of 50 foreign nationals from Italy and Iran evading testing and hiding in Patna's Kurji area went viral with an videos of some of the foreigners emerging from a house. The foreigners were allegedly holed up in a mosque in Gali no. 74 and evading testing. While some reports claimed they were from Italy and Iran, others claimed they wer Uighur Muslims from China. A detailed investigation by AltNews found that the foreign nationals (As per AltNews, there were a total of ten, not 50 or twelve) were from Kryghistan who had all arrived in India before Januaruy 30 when the first COVID-19 case was recorded. The investigation also noted that while the foreign nationals were indeed living in the mosque in Gali 74 along with two other local guides, all of them had been taken to AIIMS at suspicions of locals where they tested negative for the virus.
On Aril 2, the Hindustan Times further reported that a total of seventeen, not ten, Kryghistani nationals along with two tour guides had been tested for coronavirus from Patna and that all of them had tested negative. This appears to be the same group that arrived from Krigystan earlier and was reported on by AltNews.
कुर्जी मस्जिद में विदेशी लोगों के बारे में किसी भी तरह की अफवाह न फैलाएं।
— Zaid (@pindropviolence) March 23, 2020
The total number of Covid-19 infections in India has crossed the 4,000 mark with 693 new cases and 32 deaths being reported in 24 hours. Maharashtra leads the country with maximum number of cases, Tamil Nadu stands second while Delhi is at the third spot. The health ministry’s figures stood at 3,959 yesterday with the number of deaths at 83. The chunk of cases in India have been linked to the religious gathering at Nizamuddin, links to which have been traced across 17 states so far.
With the numbers failing to improve, fear and speculation has been growing and along with it, communal hate has also been on the boil. Be it on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or even television news channels, fake news is being circulated unchecked and at a rampant speed.
The only way to ascertain not adding to the problem is to always verify sensitive content from multiple sources before sharing on social media.
In wake of the positive COVID-19 cases linked to the Tablighi Jamat gathering in Nizamuddingf last month, it also becomes important to not vilify and stigmatize an entire community for the foolish acts of a few. it is high time that governments, politicians and indvidual citizens step up and practice extra caution to ensure against the bigoted targeting of a community at a time of crisis.