Ideas

Ground Report: How Indiaspend Twisted Facts To List Fight Between Muslims As ‘Communal Clashes’ For Hate Database

Entrance of the mosque in south Delhi’s Begumpur (Swarajya) 
Snapshot
  • Indiaspend’s so called ‘hate tracker’ does not seem to be exposing hate as much as manufacturing it.

This correspondent has earlier shown through two pieces of analysis that data portal Indiaspend's much-cited 'hate crime watch' is tailor-made to show mainly Muslims as victims and Hindus as perpetrators of hate crimes. Indiaspend's website defines 'hate crime watch' as the first statistical perspective to a growing phenomenon of crime motivated by religious hatred.

This database is routinely cited by a number of media publications and was recently endorsed by the Congress party.

In the first piece, we showed that Indiaspend's data collection, from an already selective source that English media is, shows blatant bias. It cherry-picks cases where Muslims are victims while leaving out several cases where Hindus are victims.

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In the second piece, we showed that Indiaspend applies its definition of hate crime selectively, and changes its "methodology" depending on the religious identity of the victim in order to play down attacks on Hindus.

We will now detail a shocking case where Indiaspend misrepresented facts to boost the number of Muslim victims in its database.

In a November 30 listing on its publicly available hate database, Indiaspend has mentioned this case under a sub-category called "communal clashes":

Residents in south Delhi’s Begumpur allegedly pelted stones at mosque-goers near the Jamia Faridya mosque, a month after eight-year-old madrassa student was killed. The root cause is a plot of land outside the madrasa — the mosque claims it as its own, while colony residents say it is public. “Mumtaz and his wife Shabana, and Liaqat Ali, his wife Saroj and their daughter sustained minor injuries and were taken to the hospital,” said DCP (south) Vijay Singh.

The portal has listed the four names as “victims” who were subjected to religious hate by "unknown" perpetrators.

However, a fact-check of the case reveals that the two couples mentioned in the description fought and injured each other; put simply, the "victims" are also the "perpetrators" and vice-versa, and belong to the same religion.

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The case:

Hardly four kilometres from New Delhi's youth-famous party den Hauz Khas Village is a colony in Begumpur area where owners say stands south Delhi's biggest madrassa. Jamia Faridiya and Jama Masjid, as it is called, is surrounded by a row of cement shanties called the Valmiki (a Scheduled Caste) camp. As per residents, the camp has around 500 Valmiki families and 20-25 Muslim families.

A route passing through the madrassa complex (land just outside the madrassa) that connects the colony to the main road is at the heart of the tension in the area. Residents say it is public land; madrassa owners claim it as their own.

It was on this route that eight-year-old Mohammad Azeem died during a scuffle with minor Valmiki children in October. Azeem, whose family lives in Haryana's Mewat district, was a residential student at this madrassa.

A blue tin structure now divides the Valmiki colony left) with madrassa (right). It was on the land in the right picture that Azeem died in scuffle with minors. (Swarajya) A blue tin structure now divides the Valmiki colony left) with madrassa (right). It was on the land in the right picture that Azeem died in scuffle with minors. (Swarajya)

The police apprehended four minors, all aged between 12 and 13, for the killing. The madrassa managers, accusing some adult residents of Valmiki colony of provoking the children into committing the crime, tried to permanently close the passage. However, the move was vehemently opposed by the residents who were bound to lose a shorter route to the main road. With police intervention, the two sides arrived at a solution that the contentious passage would be closed and a separate route created for the residents.

This was supposed to put an end to the tension but, in the last week of November, a scuffle broke out between some residents and madrassa owners. The Indian Express, the only newspaper to have reported about this clash, wrote that "mosque-goers claimed they were pelted with stones Friday evening by residents of an adjacent colony, over a blockade separating the mosque and the colony".

This, of course, is only a one-sided version and we will elaborate on it shortly.

Shabnam aka Saroj stands at the entrance of the new passage from the main road. Adjacent to the right (now visible in picture) is madrassa complex. (Swarajya) Shabnam aka Saroj stands at the entrance of the new passage from the main road. Adjacent to the right (now visible in picture) is madrassa complex. (Swarajya)

But here's how Indiaspend selectively picked up a statement by deputy commissioner of police (south) Vijay Singh in its desperation to increase number of Muslim victims in its database.

IE quoted Singh as saying, "Mumtaz and his wife Shabana, and Liaqat Ali, his wife Saroj and their daughter sustained minor injuries and were taken to the hospital. The quarrel is reportedly over a route."

Indiaspend, evidently without understanding the case, listed the four persons as "victims" while also ignoring Singh's statement that the quarrel is over a route.

The reality is starkly different. Liaqat Ali and his wife Shabnam aka Saroj are residents of the Valmiki colony while Mohammad Mumtaz is a teacher and caretaker at the madrassa. The scuffle that day, took place mainly between these two Muslim couples.

Here's what both sides told Swarajya:

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Residents’ version:

As per residents of the Valmiki colony, some women went in a group to inquire about the pace of work on the new route in the presence of three cops who had been deployed.

Sharda Devi, one of those women, told Swarajya, "The route was supposed to be complete in a week's time but even after more than a month had passed, it wasn't ready. They were delaying the work endlessly. We went there to ask what is happening with the work."

She said that a spat ensued between them and Mohammad Mumtaz, who attacked the women with a wooden stick.

Swarajya has a video of this episode, and Mumtaz can indeed be seen lifting a long wooden stick and launching an attack on the women. But it's not clear from the video whether he actually hit them. The video has a view only of the madrassa and the other side is not visible. Madrassa students and managers can be seen pelting stones on the other side.

Shabnam Ali (left) and husband Liaqat Ali, both residents of Valmiki colony. (Swarajya) Shabnam Ali (left) and husband Liaqat Ali, both residents of Valmiki colony. (Swarajya)

As per Liaqat Ali, that's when he stepped in to protect the women and got himself injured at the hands of Mumtaz. "The mullahs were attacking the women. When I intervened, they assaulted me saying I stand with Hindus so I must be beaten up," he said.

"I wouldn't side with the mullahs just because they belong to the same religion as mine. I'll stand for what is right. I will side with my neighbours," he said.

His wife Shabnam said she arrived at the spot soon and got assaulted as well. "They hit my 13-year-old daughter. When I protested, they hit me with stones," she said.

Shabnam accused the madrassa owners of trying to give the case a communal colour when it wasn't so, in order to encroach upon the land.

"My name is Shabnam and my family calls me Saroj. But they are trying to popularise my name as Saroj so it would appear that I am a Hindu and this is a religious issue. They want to silence us so they can keep on encroaching public land," she said.

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Shabnam, who grew up in the colony, said that thirty years ago, there was a just a small mosque for a handful of Muslim families but slowly, the owners illegally expanded it to make a 40-room madrassa.

"They kept on bribing officials and claiming more and more land. When we were children, we had a wide road leading to the main road and a huge ground to play on. The mullahs built a wall and restricted our space. Now they have blocked the passage to make the entire ground within the walls their property," she said.

However, Shabnam and other residents said that the dispute is settled now that the new passage is ready and operational.

Madrassa’s version

On the other side, we met Mumtaz and his brother Izaz Ali, who both teach at and take care of the madrassa. "Kaku [Liaqat Ali] and Saroj [Shabnam] started it all. They pelted stones at us," said Mumtaz.

Mohammad Mumtaz (left) and Mohammad Izaz (Swarajya) Mohammad Mumtaz (left) and Mohammad Izaz (Swarajya)

Asked why he was the first to pick up the stick, Mumtaz said, "They called us terrorists, goons and pimps. How can anyone tolerate this? But I only threatened them with the stick and did not hit them," he said.

Mumtaz said the women had come with the intention of fighting and not inquiring about work. "They came in a group. The police have noted that they were the ones who barged in and kicked the gate before hurling choicest abuses on us. I went to the spot only when they started pelting stones. I was worried for my students," he said.

Asked why there is a tiff between them and residents, Mumtaz said it’s because the latter sees the madrassa as land encroacher. “They are talking about thirty years ago. Let me go further back in time. This whole land was a kabaristan [Muslim graveyeard] when these people set up their shanties. So who is the encroacher here?” he said.

Part of the madrassa complex is still a graveyard (Swarajya) Part of the madrassa complex is still a graveyard (Swarajya)

However, the brothers said they have moved on and now that the new route is ready, they hope the matter is settled for all times to come.

"We always wanted to close this passage as they were literally torturing us. They would throw liquor bottles inside. They insisted on their children playing here despite availability of other parks. They insisted on burning Ravan effigy here," said Izaz.

"Even before Azeem's death, they had beaten up our children and threatened us," he said.

But even as the brothers say the matter is solved, it looks like it is not. A resident of the Valmiki colony, incidentally a Muslim, is now at loggerheads with the madrassa.

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Zubair Khan, owner of what looked like the biggest house in the colony, told Swarajya that he has moved high court against usurping of public land by the madrassa by closing the passage.

Mumtaz, in turn, said that it is Zubair who is behind all the tension. “We were living peacefully with the Valmikis all these years until this Zubair stoked tension two years ago,” said Mumtaz.

“He wanted to build the entry to his house towards the madrassa and encroach upon our land. But we got it halted by escalating the matter to Waqf board. Since then, he has started ‘groupism’ and playing politics. He has been using Saroj for the purpose.”

“This matter is not about ‘Hindu-Muslim’ at all but about groupism started by Zubair,” he said.

Entrance of the madrassa (Swarajya) Entrance of the madrassa (Swarajya)

And so the land dispute continues. But it is pretty clear from the statements from all sides that the matter is not about religious hatred between two communities but a dispute over land. Incidentally, most involved in the dispute are Muslims.

Indiaspend and its arm Factchecker.in (that runs the hate tracker) have obviously got it horribly wrong. But it is not an innocent mistake.

Indiaspend has earlier listed the death of Mohammad Azeem by minor children as a hate crime against a Muslim by “unknown perpetrators”. This is despite most of the mainstream English media publications including The Times of India publishing thorough fact-checks of the case, concluding that Azeem’s death happened in a scuffle, at the hands of minors and was not premeditated.

The police repeatedly told the media that the incident wasn’t communal, so did the father of the dead child. But Indiaspend went on to list it as a hate crime by citing niche sources like Twocircles.net.

Swarajya readers may remember that Twocircles.net was among the portals leading the smear campaign against triple talaq victim-crusader Ishrat Jahan by publishing her 14-year-old daughter’s statement on Jahan’s alleged extra-marital affair.

We have also shown through several examples that Indiaspend consistently hypes non-communal attacks on Muslims as hate crimes. For instance, lynching of a cattle thief who happened to be a Muslim was listed as a hate crime even when there have been several cases where cattle thieves who are Hindus were lynched in a similar manner. Similarly, a Muslim man killed over parking dispute was listed as a hate crime even when there are several cases where Hindu men have been killed over such petty disputes too. We have also shown that Indiaspend chooses to believe the victim and the police selectively.

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It has been reported that the founding trustee of IndiaSpend is the Data Analytics head of the Congress party. Recently, the party officially endorsed this database for propaganda against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre. This may answer the question on the motive of IndiaSpend to push such a biased narrative.

But there is a bigger question. Is the portal actually manufacturing hate in the name of exposing it?

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