Yes, People Are Avoiding Buying From Muslim Vendors, But Blaming It On Fake News Is Itself Fake News 

Yes, People Are Avoiding Buying From Muslim Vendors, But Blaming It On Fake News Is Itself Fake News 

by Swati Goel Sharma - Monday, May 4, 2020 02:24 PM IST
Yes, People Are Avoiding Buying From Muslim Vendors, But Blaming It On Fake News Is Itself Fake News Screenshots of Alt News and Newslaundry reports. 
  • There is overwhelming, verified information that attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi and the Muslim community in many pockets of the country have indulged in serious misconduct.

    For almost every misleading social media claim vilifying the community, there is more than one corresponding news report that is verified and has not been refuted.

A disturbing but emerging trend during the ongoing lockdown over Covid-19 pandemic is that non-Muslims are avoiding contacts with members of the Muslim community in many pockets.

Videos of people asking vendors to leave their colony if they fail to show their identity card or turn out to be Muslims have surfaced on the internet.

The trend is unfortunate, but a section of the media is misreporting the reasons that are driving and fuelling this trend.

This bunch would have you believe that this “Muslim boycott” is entirely an outcome of misinformation about the Muslim community.

As per this section, misleading social media posts falsely vilifying the Muslim community — such as old, unrelated-to-Coronavirus videos of Muslims spitting at food or licking utensils being circulated as recent — have weaved an ‘anti-Muslim’ narrative’ that has prompted this boycott.

While misleading social media posts might have aggravated the situation, they certainly aren‘t entirely responsible for it.

No, it’s not misinformation alone that’s making people wary of accepting fruits and vegetables or even parcels from Muslims.

Their reasons and fears are very much based on real misconduct of Muslims in many parts of the country.

Let’s take a quick look at a few publications pushing this unsubstantiated theory, before we examine the theory itself:

NDTV: In a report published on 15 April, NDTV reported that residents are driving away Muslim vendors from their areas in Uttar Pradesh and the National Capital Region (NCR).

The news anchor blamed it entirely on social media. “Ye sab hua hai Tablighi Jamaat mein corona failne ke baad social media par jis tarike ki tasveerin aayi, us par,” the anchor says. The report mentions fake news several times.

Altnews: The Left-leaning, so-called fact-checking website has blamed ‘misleading posts’ for incidents of Muslim boycott, while completely failing to acknowledge the real cases of misconduct by Muslims.

In a piece calling out a misleading report by India TV, Altnews wrote, “…Despite no visual evidence and the claims debunked by local authorities, channels have continually been promoting the anti-Muslim narrative….Alt News has also been debunking several old and unrelated videos widely shared on social media to claim that members of the Muslim community have been intentionally spitting to spread the virus. However, mainstream media has now emerged as the main promoter of this dangerous piece of misinformation…”

Newslaundry: For a report published on 1 May about discrimination and hostility faced by Muslim fruits suppliers in Noida, the portal used a feature image that showed headlines of three reports, two of which were about false social media posts on Muslims spreading Covid-19. The third report was about a UP MLA telling people on camera not to buy vegetables from Muslim vendors.

The Newslaundry report, like its feature image, blamed misinformation alone for the boycott.

Let’s now examine the theory:

For this, we first take a look at what residents have themselves said while asking Muslim vendors to leave their colonies:

  • In a viral video featured in an NDTV report, that shows a resident shouting at a vendor named Jawed for lying that his name is Sanjay, the resident is heard saying, “What do you people want? To finish all of us Hindus? Why are you people reading namaaz in groups of hundreds despite Modiji telling everyone not to congregate?”
  • In another viral video from Delhi’s Badarpur, where a resident is seen thrashing and abusing a vendor after learning of his name as Mohammad Saleem, the resident is heard saying, “You should never be seen in this colony again. You people are spreading Jihad”. The resident, Praveen Babbar, was later booked and arrested by the police.
  • In UP’s Mahoba, some Muslim vendors submitted a complaint to the local administration that people were refusing to buy from them. The letter said that people were calling them members of the Tablighi Jamaat.

As anyone can see, the statements made by non-Muslims against Muslims do not suggest that they were misled by false social media posts, but reveal a general mistrust of Muslims and an impression that Muslims are not taking the pandemic seriously.

Similarly, when Swarajya asked a resident of Nalanda why she was avoiding buying from Muslims, the answer was, “They are spreading Corona. It’s a conspiracy to kill us kaafirs.”

Let’s now compare the misleading posts on social media around Muslims with real cases of their misconduct, to find out if people’s fears can be blamed entirely on misinformation:

Social media posts/news reports that have been refuted (as mentioned in Newslaundry and Altnews reports cited above)

  • BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje claimed that Tablighi Jamaat attendees in Belagavi were spitting and misbehaving with hospital staff. The claim was later refuted by Belagavi Deputy Commissioner SB Bommanahalli.
  • Social media users shared a claim — and one regional channel in Raipur even reported — that a minor Tablighi Jamaat attendee misbehaved with and spat on doctors at AIIMS Raipur. The institute later took to Twitter to say that the boy did not attempt to spit at any health official at all.
  • Reports published by Amar Ujala and Patrika said that Tablighi Jamaat attendees quarantined in Saharanpur defecated in the open after being refused non-vegetarian food. The claim was later refuted by Saharanpur police citing probe.
  • An audio clip circulating on WhatsApp said that Muslim vendors have sprung up in Surat to spread Coronavirus. The crime branch of Surat later arrested a man, Mukesh Ostval, for manufacturing the false audio.
  • A video was shared on social media with the claim that a Nizamuddin Tablighi Jamaat attendee spat at cops in April. It turned out that the video was of an undertrial, Mohammad Sohal Shaukat Ali, spitting at cops in a police vehicle in February this year.
  • A video of a vendor applying saliva on fruits was shared by a news channel, TV9 Bharatvarsh, with the claim that he was a ‘corona criminal’ spreading virus. It turned out that the video was shot not in April but in February. The vendor, Sheru Khan, was found to be licking his finger and touching the fruits. An FIR was filed against him, with the complainant saying in his statement that he shot the video after watching the vendor infecting fruits with his saliva, which could prove to be dangerous in spreading an epidemic.
  • A video of a resident in a colony confronting a Muslim vendor over some issue was shared with the claim that the vendor had urinated in a bottle and sprinkled it on fruits. It turned out that the vendor had sprinkled the water that he had washed his hands with after urinating The vendor was booked by the police.

Now, here’s a list of news reports published in prominent publications that have not been refuted:

On Tablighi Jamaat attendees quarantined in hospitals spitting and defecating on the floor of the premises, and misbehaving with staff

On members of the Muslim community applying saliva on fruits and currency notes:

On Muslims mocking lockdown advisory and calling Covid-19 “Allah’s NRC”

  • India Today, 3 April: Surge in TikTok videos aimed at misleading Indian Muslims over coronavirus precautions. This report cites a study done of 30,000 clips on TikTok where users portraying Muslims are discouraging from practising social-distancing and mask-wearing as part of Covid-19 measures. In one such video, a young boy describes the pandemic as "Allah’s NRC". ”This coronavirus is nothing. It's Allah's NRC. It's Allah's wish who stays and who is summoned up,” he says. In another video, the user says Covid-19 doesn’t affect Muslims, and invokes Quran to claim that hand-shaking and hugging cure the disease.
  • Opindia, 21 March: Islam above Coronavirus safety: Users take to TikTok to spread falsehood, launch campaign against social distancing. The report cites several Tik-Tok videos by Muslim users on Covid-19. In one such video, a man expressing fear of Corona is rebuked by another man, who says, “You will leave Sunnat (traditional Islamic custom) today and Islam tomorrow due to your fear of death. We are Muslims and therefore we are not afraid to die.” In a video uploaded on another video-sharing platform, Vigo, a man, mocking safety measures, says,“Sharing food eaten by another Muslim leads to Shifa (healing) and not corona.”
  • Apart from these, a video went viral of an anti-CAA protester in Lucknow telling the media that “Corona means Quran” and won’t harm her. In another video, an Islamic preacher in Bengal was heard appealing to a crowd in February to pray to Allah so that he sends a deadly virus in India which kills 50 crore people.

On Muslim crowds pelting stones at doctors, healthcare officials and cops

As anyone can see, there is overwhelming, verified information that Muslim attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi, and the Muslim community in many pockets of the country, have indulged in serious misconduct. For almost every misleading social media claim, there is more than one corresponding news report that is verified and has not been refuted.

In fact, the selectivity shown by fact-checking portals such as Altnews in documenting lockdown-related cases is producing the same effect that they claim to be countering. Their repeated claims blaming the “Muslim boycott” on misleading social media posts are themselves misleading.

This correspondent sought Altnews founder Pratik Sinha’s response on the issue twice, but received no reply.

If this section of the media is not diagnosing the problem right, can it be trusted to get the solution right?

News reports and videos reveal that the Muslim community in many pockets has lost trust in the government and police. In cities like Ahmedabad, Indore and Moradabad, where Muslim crowds attacked healthcare officials when their teams entered their colonies, police later found that misinformation of a large scale had been circulated in the community (read here, here and here). Messages telling Muslims that they are being given poison in hospitals and sent to detention centres in the name of treatment had been widely circulated.

If the Muslims attacked in panic, the visuals of the attacks in turn created mistrust of them in other communities. Moreover, the conduct of some Tablighi Jamaat attendees at quarantine centres deepened the mistrust.

There is a need to call out the misinformation within the Muslim community and restore their trust in the state. Blanking out the real reasons won’t help the cause.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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