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Birbhum Violence Aftermath: Fake News, Communal Hate and a Political Toolkit

Several discourses on social media revolving around the incident tried to incite communal tension and fear

Published
India
6 min read
Birbhum Violence Aftermath: Fake News, Communal Hate and a Political Toolkit
i

The alleged murder of Trinamool Panchayat leader Bhadu Sheikh and the subsequent violence in Birbhum’s Rampurhat, sparked off a political slugfest in West Bengal and beyond. A major part of this were instances of misinformation spread with a communal spin.

Firefighters dousing the fire in one of the burnt houses in Rampurhat, Birbhum on Tuesday, 22 March.

(Photo: PTI)

Just to recap what happened, within an hour of Sheikh's death on 21 March, several houses belonging to those suspected in the killing were gutted by a mob, allegedly in retaliation.

The police recovered eight charred bodies, primarily of women and children from the gutted houses in Bogtui village. Three victims were admitted to the local hospital. The death toll currently stands at nine.

It must be noted here that according to the police, all the nine victims of the tragedy are Muslims. Even those who have been accused and arrested in relation to the incident are also Muslims.

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The Quint studied the online discourse round the incident, to document and analyse how communal hatred and fear are being propagated through Twitter and Facebook.

The posts spreading misinformation around the Rampurhat violence seem to have been aimed at pushing three different narratives: Muslims in danger, Hindus in danger and Bengali pride.

Most of these tweets have been shared using the hashtags #BengalBurning, #BirbhumMassacre, #बंगाल_में_हिंदू_जल_रहा_है, and #TheBengalFiles.

We have only used a few tweets from each discourse to highlight the narrative that is being pushed. Some of the accounts selected for the study are accounts followed by political leaders in Bengal.

There are however, several tweets along similar lines.

Discourse 1: Muslims Are Not Safe in Bengal, No One is

The first discourse being pushed is how Muslims are not safe in Bengal. The posts highlight how some of the recent victims of ‘political murder’ have been Muslims, to prove that Muslims are 'not safe' in Bengal, and that the ruling TMC treats Muslims only as a ‘vote bank.’

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They even reference the death of student activist Anish Khan to highlight how Muslims are being targeted.

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

Archive link: http://archive.today/RVM67

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

An account which is followed by some Bengal BJP leaders went as far as to say that Muslims in Bengal are being targeted to prepare the ground for a ‘larger Hindu Genocide’. The post opens by saying how all the victims of the 2021 post-poll violence in Bengal were Hindus (a claim that has not been verified yet).

The account not only targeted the TMC but also the CPM of wanting a ‘Hindu Genocide’ in Bengal.

Archive link: http://archive.today/bBSwF

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

Discourse 2: They Will Come for Hindus Next

The second discourse is a step forward from the previous set of posts - it talks about ‘Hindu Genocide’. These posts are aimed at creating communal tension between Hindus and Muslims.

Archive link: http://archive.today/SKFUT

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

Some posts are direct in their messaging, where the discourse circles around ‘Hindu Khatre Mein Hai’. While one post alleges that there has never been any outrage over the death of a Hindu leader in West Bengal, the other shows how the killing won’t stop at Muslims and will come for Hindus after that.

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Archive link: http://archive.today/ARbsn

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

Memes portraying Muslims as terrorists and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee as a leader for Muslims with terrorist links have also been widely shared to reinforce anti-Muslim hate.

'Don't look at me, its just a cylinder burst'

(Photo: Facebook)

Mamata Banerjee's photo morphed into that of an Islamic terrorist leader 

(Photo: Facebook)

Some memes accused the central government of not acting against the killing of ‘Hindus and other political victims.’ This post was shared with the hashtag #TheBengalFiles, a spin-off from the recent film The Kashmir Files. This hashtag has been used repeatedly around the Birbhum incident and political killings in Bengal with added communal undertones.

The insinuation is that Bengal may witness a repeat of what happened to the Kashmiri pandits in the Valley.

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

Posts talked about how ‘The Bengal Files’ is happening live in West Bengal and ‘Hindus must wake up and unite’ if they want to save ‘Bengali Hindus’ from the hands of the TMC.

Archive link: https://archive.is/nMYzG

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

Archive link: http://archive.today/oKGIW

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

Several of these posts stemmed from fake news about how Hindus were killed in Bogtui on 21 March. BJP MLA from Telangana Raja Singh had posted a video claiming that ‘innocent Hindus were murdered in Bengal’.

He even requested PM Modi and Amit Shah to pass a law that ‘provides guns’ to Hindus in Bengal for self-defence.

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This claim was however debunked, as the police records showed that all the victims of the tragedy were Muslims, and even those who have been arrested in relation to the incident are Muslims. That didn’t stop the spread of misinformation though.

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

In West Bengal, the scenes from Kashmir Files are happening live. Hindus are burning in Bengal. Wake up Hindus, Wake up. 

Archive link: http://archive.today/oZSQ6

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

Many even believed Hindus were fleeing Bogtui village to save themselves, whereas it was in fact distant relatives of Bhadu Sheikh and relatives of those accused in his murder (all Muslims) who fled the village in fear.

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

Discourse 3: Bengali Pride Through a Toolkit

A third discourse was also being propagated – one that tries to invoke Bengali pride. And this was being done through tweets circulated in advance through a toolkit.

Toolkit to protest against the violence in Birbhum

(Photo: Screenshot)

Photos from the toolkit

(Photo: Screenshot)

This toolkit came in the form a Google Drive link which contained an extensive set of tweets in Bengali and English, as well as posters and videos that can be posted on various social media platforms.

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While most of the posts attacked the TMC over ‘lawlessness in the state’. Some of them tried to invoke Bengali pride by saying using terms like ‘Bengali blood’ and ‘Bengali women’.

Sample tweets highlighting Bengali pride (5 and 7)

(Photo: Screenshot)

Sample tweets in Bengali

(Photo: Screenshot)

Even BJP State President Sukanta Majumdar tweeted one of the tweets from the said toolkit.

(Photo: Twitter Screenshot)

While the true nature of the incident is still under investigation and all angles are being probed by the CBI, this hasn’t stopped some sections from pushing forth a communal agenda to create unrest in an otherwise volatile area.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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