Ever since Tablighi Jamaat’s role as the super-spreader of the Wuhan coronavirus in India came to the fore, online crusaders such as Dhruv Rathee, along with self-proclaimed fact-checkers like Alt News, have gone overboard in declaring their innocence. Conspiracy theories and insidious fact-checks are being purveyed by them to slander the establishment while downplaying Tablighi Jamaat and other Muslim individuals’ culpability in the spread of the infection.
Freelance ‘journalist’ and Pro-AAP blogger Dhruv Rathee, who portrays himself to be a polymath, although a ludicrous one, and whose source of information is often limited to his own misconceived intuitions, recently uploaded a Facebook post with a list of 8 fact-checks done by propaganda portals in the last few days.
Let’s get to the truth of these purported fact-checks one by one-
Fact Check no. 1: ‘Muslim man spitting on fruits to spread Corona’
In his Facebook post, online crusader Dhruv Rathee has shared the link of ‘The Quint’, the platform which transformed an engineer into a doctor and peddled fake news about coronavirus spread in the country. This fact-check published by The Quint “attempts” to prove that the man named Sheru Mian was not spitting on the fruits. By sharing this link, Rathee has implied that Sheru Mian did not spit on the fruits and is being unfairly targeted by the people.
Here is the screenshot of the relevant portion from The Quint’s ‘fact-check’ report shared by social media warrior Dhruv Rathee. It is pertinent to note that the article clearly states that the investigation on whether Sheru Mian is guilty of putting saliva on the vegetables still ‘underway’. Yet, Rathee attempted to portray it as if Sheru Mian is innocent and is being vilified only because he is a Muslim.
A bland report about the developments happened in Sheru Mian’s case was deviously twisted by Dhruv Rathee to convey that a fact-check has been done by The Quint on the matter.
Notwithstanding the police verification which concluded that the video of Shru Mian was authentic, habitual fake news peddler Alt News appeared so desperate to shield Sheru Mian that instead of focusing on his criminality of applying saliva on the vegetables, they seemed keener on contriving a “fact-check” and harping on the date and time when the video was uploaded.
Amidst the gloomy scenario, where people are already panic-stricken because of the enigmatic nature of COVID-19, the video of the vegetable-seller spitting on his vegetables only added to their apprehension. Fact-checkers were visibly perturbed that people had informed the police about Mian’s misdoings. In their so-called fact-check, Alt News alleged that the video of a Muslim vegetable vendor spitting on the vegetables was not from April but from February, as if spitting on the vegetables in February was totally in accordance with the prevailing societal norms.
The question here is, what was the fact-check in this article? Firstly, it is astoundingly ludicrous to premise one’s fact-check not on the event itself but the date and timing of the event. The police and other media had clearly verified that Sheru had indeed spit on the food and the video was totally authentic. However, after first contesting the veracity of the video, the likes of Dhruv Rathee, The Quint and the self-proclaimed fact-checker Alt News went on to question the date and time of the video.
They had no qualms if the person spat on the vegetables and fruits. They were primarily concerned with exculpating the Muslim vegetable vendor. Fact-check as to when and where the incident happened held more importance than the unscrupulous act committed by the man. They were preoccupied with their propaganda of salvaging Muslims, regardless of their culpability. If a Muslim is seen committing a depraved act in a video, the emphasis is placed on fact-checking extraneous minutiae such as whether the video is from Italy or China or if it’s from January or March. The debased nature of the act committed by the perpetrator is inconsequential to their fact-checking.
Fact Check no. 2: ‘Muslims licking utensils to spread Corona’
Self-proclaimed fact-checker which regularly likes to water down crimes committed by Islamists, Alt News, recently fact-checked a video that showed some Muslims licking utensils. Alt News claimed in their article that it is an unrelated and old video meant to maligns the Muslims. The article said that the video showing Muslims licking last remaining morsels of food in the utensils is from July 2018 which is being bandied about in recent times to whip up anti-Muslim sentiments.
However, one must realise that there have been several instances such as a Maulvi praying for the death of 50 crore Hindus, a video of a Muslim man licking currency notes with the ulterior aim of infecting others of coronavirus, videos of radical Muslims discouraging others from maintaining social distancing and many other videos which have raised a general suspicion against the Muslim community. The emergence of Tablighi Jamaat as the newest and pernicious cluster of coronavirus has only added to the misgivings. In fact, an account of the habits espoused by Tablighi Jamaat members at Markaz Nizamuddin has served to amplify the suspicions against them. Tablighi Jamaat members performed ‘Wudu’, ceremonial washing of hands and legs from the same pool of water at Markaz. A group of 30-40 members ate from the same plate, escalating the chances of virus transmission.
The video exemplified the unhygienic practices followed by Muslims which has resulted in the disproportionate increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the country. However, slanted ‘fact-check’ were so engrossed in their Muslim salvation that they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Dhruv Rathee, who hails himself as a fact-checker, deliberately missed the nuance and continued peddling propaganda by the fake-news peddler Alt News.
Fact Check no. 3: ‘Muslims sneezing in unison to spread Corona’
While claiming that the news about Muslims sneezing in unison to spread coronavirus is fake, online crusader Dhruv Rathee cited a dubious website ‘The Logical Indian’. In the fact-check, the website said that the charge against Muslims of sneezing to spread coronavirus is patently false.
However, contrary to this assertion, if the news is to be believed, malevolent Jamaatis are indeed trying to disseminate the infection deliberately. Earlier, when the officials were shifting the Tablighi Jamaat members from Markaz Nizamuddin to containment facilities, many Tablighi Jamaat members, suspected of suffering from COVID-19 were found spitting on the roads of Delhi.
In a TV interview with India TV, Dr Aarti Lalchandani, the principal of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Medical College, who is tending the corona patients of Tablighi Jamaat in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur, claimed that many of the Jamaat members were stubbornly refusing to cooperate with the medical workers and spitting at different places in the hospital. Other reports from quarantine centres in Delhi have claimed that Tablighi Jamaat members spat not only in the containment facilities but also on doctors, nurses and attendants. However, according to Dhruv Rathi and the team of Alt News, whose expertise in fact-checking is only limited to reverse image-search, such intentionally perversely spiteful behaviour of Tablighi Jamaat members did not amount to spreading coronavirus.
Fact Check no. 4: Dhruv Rathee accused ANI of running fake story of Hindus in Karachi being denied rations
Propagandist Dhruv Rathee rubbished the ANI report of Hindus in Karachi being denied rations as fake by citing a Pakistani news media outlet. So intense is Rathee’s hatred for India that he places for more faith in obsequious news agencies of Pakistan instead of believing independent Indian news outlets. Rathee bases his belief that the news reported by ANI is false, on assertions made by Karachi Commissioner Samiullah who said there ain’t a single Hindu in the said village to be denied rations.
First of all, it is ridiculous that Dhruv Rathee uses a report from Pakistani news media outlet to deem ANI’s report as fake. Hindus in Pakistan have often been kidnapped, raped and forcibly converted while the Pakistani media outlets either repudiate such news or ignore them altogether. Secondly, by giving credence to propagandist media outfits of Pakistan, Dhruv Rathee is only empowering them further to provide a cover-up for their heinous acts against Hindus. Thirdly, the investigative fact-checker should also ensure that the ‘sources’ sitting in Pakistan from whom he produces their fact-checked report, do not become part of any terrorist organization in Pakistan.
Fact Check no. 5: Old video used to claim Tablighi Jamaat members spitting on policemen to spread coronavirus
Avant-garde ‘fake-news’ buster Dhruv Rathee shares a link to BBC, the same website which published a report on how sex-life of people have been affected because of the mandated quarantine during the coronavirus outbreak, in which a fact-check about a 26-year-old young man named Mohammad Suhail Shaukat Ali being beaten to the pulp by police officers after he spits on them while being taken to Mumbai court for his hearing is done.
While technically the fact-check is perfect but it is worth noting that the youth who spits on police officers is a Muslim and the incident has a stark resemblance to members of Tablighi Jamaat who are found spitting on police officials, nurses, attendants and doctors in different parts of the country to spread their malady to others. The larger and undeniable point is that Muslim members, belonging to Tablighi Jamaat have unabashedly resorted to spitting, with the aim to infect others. The fact-check glosses over that fact to claim that old videos are being circulated to assert that Tablighi Jamaat members are spitting on others while giving a clean chit to the offenders.
Fact Check no. 6: Video falsely claiming Muslim policeman beating Hindu priest
In his 6th claim, Rathee shares a link to another dubious website-‘The Lallantop’ to contend that the video of a Muslim policeman beating a Hindu priest is fake. Social media was rife with many news, including SP of Rewa beating up a priest during the lockdown. However, ‘The Lallantop’ has managed to keep the secular fabric of its article intact by adding a line in its fact check that not only priests in the temples but Muslims have also been beaten alike during the lockdown.
Fact Check no. 7: Muslim worker in restaurant spitting in food to spread coronavirus
The seventh claim is the biggest testament to the trickery of the routine fake-news peddlers-cum-self-proclaimed fact-checkers like Alt News. The title of the article shared by Dhruv Rathee states that it contains ‘fact-check’ about a Muslim man spitting in food to spread coronavirus. However, inside the body of the article, one realises that the fact-check is about whether the food is packaged in India or some other Gulf or Asian country. Even this fact is not established in the article as it explicitly includes a disclaimer that Alt News could not establish exact details about the video, meaning everything else in the article is nothing less than gobbledygook to exonerate Tablighi Jamaat members of any wrongdoing.
Such videos are often shared on social media, in which people of the Muslim community are seen spitting food before a community meal or they are seen making such claims.
Instead of fact-checking why did the Muslim man in the video spat in the food, or what are the motivations for Muslims to dribble in the food, or if its a custom among Muslims to spit in the food, ‘fact-checker’ AltNews thought it more important to conduct a superficial fact-check to ascertain if the video is from Dubai or Singapore or any other Asian country.
Fact-check no.8: Muslim foreign nationals hiding in Patna mosque to avoid coronavirus testing
This is perhaps the most preposterous fact-check in the total list of 8 posted by Dhruv Rathee. The article, which is written by Alt-News co-founder Muhammad Zubair himself, says that the people hiding in the mosque of Patna were from Kyrgyzstan and not Italy. The interesting fact here is that according to Alt News co-founder Zubair, Kyrgyzstan is not a foreign country. Once again, the fact-check was done just for the sake of it, without having any objective quality to it.
Opindia, based on news sources (which were media and not Facebook page administrators), mentioned the possibility of their being from Turkmenistan in the report, which is quite natural.
In the absence of information, many times news from different sources can publish ‘wrong name/place’, where the purpose is only to convey the news to the readers with the available information. However, in the case of AltNews, where propaganda trumps fact-based reporting, incongruity about unimportant details are pointed out so that the larger point can be somehow masked. Here too, Alt News was busy determining whether the foreign nationals had Chinese passport or Italian citizenship, instead of focusing on the pertinent point that they had come from outside India and were suspected of carrying COVID-19.
The fact that they came from Kyrgyzstan, Italy, China or Turkey is secondary. The more important fact that Muslim foreign nationals who may be suspected of carrying COVID-19 were found hiding in Patna mosque was quietly swept under the carpet by the AltNews and irrelevant information points as to from which country they hailed from was given undue importance in their report.
In addition, Alt News in its report mentions that people in the Patna mosque had gotten suspicious of the foreign nationals living in the mosque. Instead of casting aspersions on OpIndia or Amar Ujala for their reportage, Alt News should have questioned the motive of those people who despite having suspicion continued to shelter the foreign nationals within the mosque premises. In fact, when these folks have been found indulging in religious activities while being on a tourist visa.
While Dhruv Rathee and ‘revolutionary’ fact-checkers that he has mentioned in his Facebook post may be under the impression that by composing a list of so-called ‘Fact-Checks’, they could downplay the role of Tablighi Jamaat Muslims in the spread of coronavirus in India, the reality is that by pulling off such an antic, their already diminishing credibility has taken another hit and their nefarious propaganda of confounding people in the name of ‘fact-checking’ stands exposed once again. Far from acquitting Muslims, their stunt has only accentuated their role in the spread of the coronavirus, not just in India but in Gulf cities and South Asian countries such as Dubai, Singapore etc.
Note: The article was originally published on OpIndia Hindi. You could read the Hindi version here.