Video Editor: Kunal Mehra
On Tuesday, 14 April, as India geared up for another phase of COVID-19 lockdown, around 1,500 migrant workers gathered near Mumbai’s Bandra train station flouting the lockdown norms.
Soon, a barrage of unverified images, videos and claims were circulated on the internet giving it a communal spin. To support the claim, many Twitter users like filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, Shefali Vaidya shared a video of a Muslim man, who can be seen speaking to the crowd, speculating if it was a ‘religious congregation’.
But on listening to the audio, one can decipher that the man, who is yet to be identified by the police, was urging the crowd to disperse.
“We know that we are all suffering. But we also know that Allah is testing us and we have to sail through this. We know your family members are not here but it is a matter of time and things will be alright. The entire world is facing this. We had to shut down masjids and churches,” he can be heard saying.
Speaking to The Quint, DCP Pranaya Ashok, Mumbai Police Spokesperson said that these were migrant workers who wanted to go back home. He also said that just because they weren’t carrying their bags doesn’t mean they didn’t intend to board the trains.
Further Mumbai Police gave details of the incident and clarified that it wasn’t a communal one.
“On 14 April 2020, nearly 1,500 people gathered outside Bandra railway station. These were mostly labourers who wanted to go back home. The police tried to convince them and speak to them, but a part of the crowd turned aggressive,” the cop said.
The second question which is being raised is about the labourers gathering outside the mosque. Let’s take a look at that information.
Did Migrants Gather Outside Jama Masjid in Bandra?
On carefully looking at the video being widely circulated on Twitter, we were able to ascertain that the mosque shown in the video was ‘Sunni Jama Masjid’ in Bandra West.
We then checked the distance between the mosque and Bandra station and found out that the distance between the two was less than a minute’s walk.
Given the distance, it is not impossible for the crowd to spill over to the railway terminus to the nearby mosque. But the next question is: what made nearly 1,500 labourers throng the terminus? What led them into believing that they could go back home?
Result of Rumour-Mongering & Misinformation by Media?
Mumbai Police is investigating if a news report by ABP Majha, a regional affiliate of ABP News, led to this confusion. The report claimed that special trains would begin plying to take migrant workers stranded in Mumbai, back home to other states.
Mumbai police also lodged an FIR against ABP Majha’s Marathwada region Bureau Chief Rahul Kulkarni for putting up news on-air which mentioned that trains have now begun running. Kulkarni was arrested from Osmanabad and brought to Mumbai to record his statement.
However, the channel has maintained that Kulkarni’s report was based on an internal communication of Ministry of Railways which was acquired by the reporter.
Another FIR has been filed against Vinay Dubey, a political activist who allegedly shared a Facebook post inciting migrant labourers to gather outside railway stations in the city. Mumbai police sources said Dubey’s message went viral on social media.
Dubey has been arrested and remanded to police custody till 21 April.
Further, South Central Railway has also issued a clarification in this regard, saying that no special trains were arranged for migrants and communication related to internal planning was misinterpreted.
Another FIR has been lodged against 1,000 unknown people who have been booked under IPC Sections 143,147,149,186,188 read with Section 3 of the Epidemics Act.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh also took to Twitter to state that misinformation regarding the commencement of trains from 14 April was spread using 11 different methods. “ The accounts have been tracked, FIRs are being filed & due legal consequences will follow,” he mentioned in the tweet.
TV Channels, Journalists Add to Rumours
Many journalists and news channels were also quick to question the gathering of the crowd outside the Jama Masjid in Bandra without verifying the facts. India TV’s Rajat Sharma tweeted questioning the presence of the migrant labourers.
While the police is still investigating the incident, it is clear that an incident which transpired out of misinformation among the migrant workers is being given a false communal spin.
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