A case has been filed against the CEO and editor-in-chief of Op India, a right-wing news platform, for spreading fake news about attacks on Bihari migrant workers within Tamil Nadu. Earlier last week, the Tamil Nadu police booked Prashant Patel Umrao, BJP’s spokesperson and a small-scale journalist from Bihar, and an editor at the Hindi Daily, Dainik Bhaskar for the same reasons.
Timeline of events:
A series of videos went viral on social media claiming that Hindi-speaking migrant workers – particularly those from Bihar – were being attacked and murdered in Tamil Nadu. These videos were retweeted by many, including members of the Bharatiya Janata Party – who used the incident to attack Bihar’s coalition government for failing to protect its citizens. Along with these videos, a false newspaper clipping of Dainik Jagran’s Lucknow edition was circulated. The clipping reported that the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin had asked Hindi-speaking migrants to leave the state as only Tamil people could work in Tamil Nadu and that the Tamil Nadu government would not be responsible for the safety of those who stayed on. Fact-checking platforms such as AltNews found that the article was fake, written using an Android application called “News Banner Maker” in poor unedited language.
On 2 March 2023, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar tweeted expressing concern and asked the Director General of Police (DGPs) of both states to look into the matter. Responding to this, Sylendra Babu, the DGP of Tamil Nadu, called these videos “false and mischievous”, and claimed that these were older videos from different districts, and neither involved clashes between Bihari migrants and Tamilian residents. According to him, the first video depicts an incident between two groups of Bihari migrant workers while another video depicts tensions between the local Tamilian residents in Coimbatore. AltNews too published a report finding that at least 5 of the viral videos were unrelated to Bihari migrants and some were even from other South Indian states and did not have anything to do with Hindi-speaking migrants.
The Bihar government sent a team of 4 senior officials to Chennai to meet Bihari migrants and verify the claims of attacks. D Balamurgan, the Bihar Rural Development Secretary led the team and reported that these claims were fake.
Despite these videos being debunked, on 3 March 2023, Dainik Bhaskar published an article claiming that Bihari migrant workers were being attacked in Tamil Nadu and referenced the viral videos. Preliminary police probes find that this was the first news report regarding the incident and was the trigger for the spread of panic on social media, WhatsApp groups and TV news outlets. Soon after, Op India also published an article detailing hate crimes against Hindi-speaking migrant workers in Tamil Nadu. Citing Dainik Bhaskar, the report claimed that terror has gripped migrant labourers in Tamil Nadu, with 15 labourers losing their lives in “Talibani” style attacks. The report detailed a particularly gruesome account of a Bihari migrant whose fingers were severed because he spoke Hindi, while another 12 migrants were hanged to death.
On 4 March 2023, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin tweeted that migrant workers are safe in Tamil Nadu and warned of strict action against those spreading false news with “the vile intention of disturbing the peace and harmony of our country”. Subsequently, a case was filed against BJP spokesperson Prashant Patel Umrao, an unnamed editor of Dainik Bhaskar, and Bihari journalist Mohammed Tanvir,. All three were booked under Section 153A and 505 of the IPC. Most recently, a case has also been filed against the CEO of Op India, Rahul Roushan and Nupur J Sharma, editor-in-chief, under the same sections.
The Economic Offence Unit (EOU) of Bihar police also lodged an FIR against 4 social media users for spreading fake news. These include Manish Kashyap who runs a YouTube news channel called Sachtak, Rajesh Tiwari who runs another Youtube news channel called Prayas News, and two twitter users – Yuvraj Singh Rajput and Aman Kumar.
As with previous instances of fake news going viral, BJP members used the news to level allegations against other party members in the Bihar state Assembly on 2 March 2023. Tejaswi Yadav, Deputy Chief Minister and member of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for attending CM MK Stalin’s birthday celebration on 1 March.
The Tamil Nadu police say that the rapid spread of fake news had definite “political motives” linked to the birthday of MK Stalin on 1st March, where calls were made for a united front against the BJP.