‘Whataboutery’ and ‘fake news’ have become such a staple of our times that every time a news story involving the minority community is reported, it is accompanied by ‘conspiracy theories’ and attempts to draw ‘false equivalence’. The Kathua rape and murder case was no different. What was disturbing though was how the willful campaign of spreading misinformation and fomenting hate also managed to somehow blame Rohingya refugees for the crime.
Ever since the body of a little girl was discovered in the forest on the outskirts of Kathua, and the complicity of influential and powerful right wing functionaries and local cops came to light, several websites and social media accounts of known right wing sympathisers went into an overdrive to spin a parallel narrative.
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For example this tweet by Madhu Kishwar blames Rohingyas for raping the little girl in Kathua:
This new narrative not only attempts to absolve the accused of their crimes, but also blames it on Muslims, especially members of the Rohingya community who had been recently resettled in the region. This was evident at the rally held in favour of the accused where supporters of the alleged rapists were seen carrying the national flag and claiming that the accused were actually innocent and had been framed.
There were also several attempts to draw false equivalence between the Kathua rape and murder and other cases where victims were non-Muslim. Many also accused ‘liberals’ of selective outrage:
However, what they failed to take into account was that it was in the Kathua case that there were demonstrations and rallies held in support of the accused. In fact, members of the ruling party, Industries and Commerce Minister Chander Prakash Ganga and Forest Minister Lal Singh, were present at this rally. They subsequently resigned following national outrage and due to mounting pressure.
Shankhnaad, a website (that is no longer accessible) popular among right wing supporters published the following conspiracy theory that quickly went viral on social media:
The claims were promptly fact checked and shot down by The Quint, which in turn elicited this response from Shankhnaad. But the manner in which the Rohingya thread was woven into the narrative was particularly interesting given how it was subsequently also played up at multiple protests in Jammu.
“The Rohingya are living in Jammu illegally and want to criminalize our society,” said Paviter Singh, a leader of Jammu Province People’s Forum that supported the shutdown protests. “We will keep protesting” until the government deport Rohingya from the state, he told UCA News.
Why are Rohingyas being targeted
Nearly 10,000 Rohingya refugees have been settled in Jammu. These families have been targeted by local politicians such as those from the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party using posters and banners as well as during the recent ‘bandh call’ in the state, allegedly for the purpose of striking fear in their hearts. Infact, the campaign to evict Rohingyas began in 2017 with right wing groups demanding their ouster.
Ever since the Rohingya exodus first began, refugees started arriving in Cox Bazaar and other refugee camps in Bangladesh. Many of them gradually started migrating to India by allegedly crossing the Bangladesh border along Poschim Bongo or Assam after paying huge sums of money to human traffickers. As it is these regions have seen an influx of (mostly Hindu) Bangladeshi migrants post the Bangladesh war in 1971.
But when Muslim migrants started entering the country Saffron groups raised concerns about the Islamisation of Bengal. These fears were fanned further when fake news stories of Muslims targeting Hindus spread during the recent communal clashes in Malda and Bashirhat. Similarly viral and often fake news stories of brutal rapes of local women and girls by perpetrators with clearly Muslim names also help foment hate. As it is difficult to tell if the alleged perpetrator is Indian, Bangladeshi or Rohingya, right wing sympathisers, websites and trolls have a field day playing the blame game.
For instance take a look at this tweet by Shankhnaad on April 12, where they spin a narrative around ‘Rape Jihad’:
This once again draws attention to the religion of the alleged rapists and also makes a case against Rohingyas. Other widely shared social media posts about minors murdered in Assam and Bihar were debunked by Boom Live as either outright wrong information, fake stories or for using images not connected with the crimes.
Even as the conspiracy theories and fake news reports kept appearing on social media in the Kathua case, most people had the decency to not speak ill of the dead child. However, one Kochi man, sank to a new low when he posted on social media allegedly saying,
good that she was killed at this age itself. Else, she would have grown up and returned throwing bombs in India”
He was promptly fired from his job after enraged twitter users demanded his ouster.
Meanwhile, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan has filed a criminal complaint against Madhu Kishwar under sections 153A, 295A and 505 of the IPC for inciting hate and violence with her tweets.
The Wider Demonisation of Muslims on Social Media
There are several other instances of demonisation of Muslims on social media. The community is routinely shown as a threat to cows, women and Hinduism, which is why there has been an increase in cases of Gautankwad or cow vigilantism and Anti-Romeo squads unleashing terror on unsuspecting youngsters.
Recently the Editor of Post Card News was arrested for spreading a fake story about attack on a Jain monk by Muslims. Similarly there are viral fake news stories of Hindu women being brutally sexually assaulted by Muslim men, Love Jihad, people eating beef, Muslims refusing to hoist the tricolour or sing the national anthem, forced conversion of Dalits to Islam, are all directed towards building hate for the minority community.