On 20 July, three women students from a private paramedical college in Karnataka's Udupi were suspended for allegedly filming a fellow student using a mobile phone inside a washroom. The institute informed the police on the same day, and an inquiry was launched.
But the incident took a rather drastic communal turn over the next few days, with several right-wing groups alleging that the suspended students, who were Muslims, used hidden cameras to shoot private videos of "Hindu girls" and circulated them among Muslim men as part of a "jihadi conspiracy."
The Udupi Police as well as the institute have vehemently denied these claims.
"There are a lot of people sharing misinformation and rumours on social media with regard to this incident. Perhaps, they are doing this with some motive. I would like to clarify that though there were reports that there were hidden cameras, as per our information, no such thing was used in this case," Udupi Superintendent of Police Hakay Akshay Machhindra told the media on Tuesday, 25 July.
Speaking to The Quint over the phone, the director of the institute Rashmi Krishna Prasad also said that there was no video leak, and added that the video was deleted by the three Muslim students in front of the Hindu girl who they filmed, by her own admission.
"No video was circulated among anyone, unlike what is being said on social media. It is all wrong. It is being shared to tarnish the image of the institute as well as the future of the students," she added.
(Update: A day later, on Wednesday, 26 July, the Udupi Police filed a case against the three Muslim students and the college for "defaming the woman." A separate case was filed against a Twiter user for circulating a fake, edited video about the incident... Read more here.)
So, What Exactly Happened?
On 18 July, the three students allegedly shot the video of the other student inside the institute's washroom. They, however, deleted the video then and there, right in front of the student.
"The student informed a female faculty member about the issue. She just wanted her to scold the students for doing it; she didn't want to file a complaint," the director said.
The director was informed of the incident on the morning of 20 July – and she immediately called the police.
"We called the parents of the students as well, and in the presence of the police, the students admitted that they filmed the student 'for fun'. The other student said that they immediately deleted it as well."Rashmi Krishna Prasad, director of the institute
The Quint tried to reach out to the students involved in the matter. We were unable to contact them. This story will be updated if we receive their response.
"We confiscated the phone and suspended the three students until further notice. The phone was handed over to the police for the inquiry," Prasad added.
The director said that they decided to suspend the three students because "no student is allowed to bring phones to the college" and because "they also admitted to committing the crime."
The Hindu girl also gave a statement saying that she doesn't want to lodge any complaint, as they are her college mates and their future is also important, the director further said.
She also clarified that there are no "hidden cameras" anywhere in the institute.
How Did Right-Wing Groups Get Involved?
After the students were suspended, a right-wing student organisation in Karnataka, the All College Student Power, wrote to the Udupi SP demanding action against the three Muslim students.
They also threatened to stage a protest if the college does not file a complaint against the students.
As per The News Minute, members of the All College Student Power even appeared on news channels alleging that several Hindu women were victim to this "conspiracy."
Some media houses, too, added fuel to this claim. An India Today report compared the incident with the 1992 Ajmer sex scandal, which saw "the systematic blackmail and gang rape of hundreds of girls studying in schools and colleges."
A Twitter user named Rashmi Samant, whose tweet on the incident was circulated widely, claimed that the three Muslim students "placed cameras in female toilets of their college to record hundreds of unsuspecting Hindu girls. Videos and phots that were then circulated in community WhatsApp groups by the perpetrators [sic]."
She went on to tweet that "many of the girls who were featured in the videos are depressed and disturbed to the extent that they are contemplating self-harm/suicide. Yet, this issue is not being condemned with the severity it deserves."
Reportedly, a different video from Tamil Nadu was also circulated on social media to claim that it was shot by the three Muslim students in Udupi.
Speaking to the media, SP Machhindra said:
"Yesterday, we saw a few videos that were recorded in different circumstances being linked to this particular incident. There is no connection between those videos and this incident. Some videos were wrongfully edited with voiceover and linked to this incident. It is not connected."
He further clarified that "there are also reports that they [the students] are circulating those videos and blackmailing the Hindu student. So far, the police department has not found this to be true."
The SP appealed to people not to engage in spreading misinformation and rumours. "It is having an impact on the students, teachers, and society at large," he said.
Right-Wing Group Issues 'Clarification'
After the Udupi Police issued its statement, the All College Student Power took to Twitter to clarify that the video being circulated with the claim that it is from Udupi was actually from Tamil Nadu.
"Thank you to the police department for investigating the case in a comprehensive way. The video is being shared by some organisations and individuals on social media. The video is actually from Tamil Nadu, there should be no confusion in this matter," the statement said.