The Gargi incident was concocted out of nothing but an anonymous Instagram post that now stands deleted.
In the world of social media where speed, and not the truth, is currency, the story has been spread far and wide, helped by influential Twitter handles.
On 6 February, which was the third day of the annual fest of Delhi University’s all-women Gargi College, a crowd of outsiders jumped the walls and entered the premises.
Several publications reported the incident, and carried anonymous accounts of students recounting cases of sexual harassment by that crowd.
Here’s a brief recap of the case so far (we are using Hindustan Times reports as the newspaper tracked the case for long):
- 9 March: The newspaper published several anonymous accounts of students alleging sexual harassment. “Around 4pm, the main gate broke open and men started pouring in. We were stuck between a flood of men, who were catcalling, groping women and passing lewd comments. The ground emptied only around 9pm. We are all shocked,” a “second-year undergraduate student” was quoted as saying. College principal Promila Kumar, however, told the newspaper as that “no incident of this kind was reported to the administration”.
- 10 February: The newspaper quoted Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) Atul Kumar Thakur as saying that the police had not received any complaint in this regard, but had began sou-moto inquiry.
- 11 February: The newspaper reported that based on a complaint from the college principal, a first information report (FIR) was filed against unidentified persons under sections 452 (trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) at Hauz Khas Police Station.
- 17 February: The Delhi High Court sought the response of the Centre and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on a plea that had sought a court-monitored probe by the apex investigation agency into the case.
- 18 February: The newspaper reported that the police had made 17 arrests, and all the arrested were aged between 18 and 27 and were students from public and private colleges in Delhi-NCR. The police said they had found no evidence of sexual harassment so far. “Police said the suspects barged into the college without valid passes for the fest but they still don’t have evidence to prove if the arrested suspects sexually harassed the students,” the report said.
- 8 March: The newspaper quoted a “senior police officer” as saying that “many students, who had reported harassment, have not recorded their statements and we have asked them to do so”. This is the last report that appears in a Google search of the case.
The reports above show that police probe found the Gargi College case to be a case of mass trespassing. No student gave a complaint to the college or her statement to the police. In their probe, the police have found no evidence of sexual harassment – that’s what we know so far.
See this. For all their sloganeering & activism, NO Gargi college student has given any complaint about molestation to police even after so many days.— Swati Goel Sharma (@swati_gs) February 21, 2020
All accused arrested for trespassing. Tales of "molesters" holding bhagwa flags and chanting Jai Shri Ram were all lies https://t.co/FboN27A5JA
During the course of investigation in February, this correspondent asked DCP Atul Thakur if any CCTV footage showed saffron flags. The top cop said, “so far, the CCTV footage have not shown any of the accused holding bhagwa flags, or any kind of flags”.
He also said that investigations so far have not revealed that the accused were affiliated to any political party. “They all are either college students or their friends,” he said.
On social media, however, the Gargi College case has an entirely different narrative – one that is based on a wholly unverified and now deleted Instagram post, started and spread by an anonymous hate-spewing account, and amplified by some influential handles.
The narrative is that ‘BJP goons’ attending a pro-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rally barged into the college wielding saffron flags, and mass molested the women while chanting Jai Shri Ram slogans.
Before we deconstruct how such bizarre claims turned into a widely circulated narrative, readers must know that a Congress leader Pankaj Punia was arrested yesterday for a communal tweet that he later said was based on the Gargi case (that is, the wholly unverified version of the Gargi case).
Punia tweeted (translated from Hindi): “Congress only wanted to help migrant workers reach home, and was willing to spend money for it, but the Bisht government started politicising the matter. Only Sanghis can indulge in such lowly activities while wearing saffron. These people exhume corpses and rape them. They strip in front of their daughters and masturbate while chanting Jai Shri Ram slogans.”
When the hate tweet created an outrage, Punia brazened it out saying his post had referred to the Gargi College incident.
Punia now has multiple FIRs filed against him, including one by Ajay Singh Thakur, a student leader at Aligarh Muslim University, for hurting religious sentiments and public mischief.
So, this is how the fake narrative around Gargi case played out:
- An Instagram account, iawaken.in, posted an anonymous account attributing it to another account @fuckbjp. An excerpt from the post said, “There were BJP goons with a nearby rally inside our campus with bhagwa flags chanting Jai Shree Ram. The students union and the administration refused to help. There was no way out of that crowd. It was scary and traumatic. They’ve destroyed out safe space.”
- The account later deleted the post, but the screenshot had gone viral by then.
- A search of @fuckbjp on Twitter shows an account with 124 followers and a bio that says it “is temporarily unavailable because it violates the Twitter Media Policy”.
- The post by iawaken.in was picked up by a Twitter user, @Saumyakul, whose bio says “I am Jamia-JNU-AMU. Read for Revolution”. The user tweeted the screenshot (it’s still on her timeline), which was retweeted over 3,500 times. Many influential handles retweeted it with comments.
- This tweet then became the basis for ‘reports’ by some portals including Indiatimes.com, a portal owned by the Times group.
Here are some media reports based on the tweet, published without any fact-check or verification:
- Gargi College Girls Allege Group Of Men Chanting 'Jai Shri Ram' Entered Campus & Molested Them, by Indiatimes.com.
- Molested thrice in 10 mins: Gargi College girls say “BJP goons chanting Jai Shree Ram molested us”, by Nationalherald.com, which is a Congress mouthpiece.
- Drunken men chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ grope, masturbate at girls in Delhi’s Gargi College, by Orissapost.com
And thus, a story was concocted out of nothing but an anonymous Instagram post that now stands deleted. In the world of social media where speed, and not the truth, is currency, the story has been spread far and wide, helped by influential handles including advocate Prashant Bhushan, radio jockey Sayema, communist leader Kavita Krishnan and official handle of JNU students’ union.
Unlike in several other cases, the police did not put out a public statement commenting on the communal allegations after its probe.
Punia’s tweets suggest that a public statement by the police is due.