Maharashtra bandh: A look at how fake news found its way into narrative of Dalit-Maratha standoff

The Maharashtra bandh called by Prakash Ambedkar's Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh on Wednesday was a successful one even as Ambedkar told Firstpost that he wanted "to congratulate the protesters for keeping their calm when emotions were running high."

The protesters on Wednesday attacked buses, stopped suburban trains and blocked roads at various places in Mumbai as normal life was hit in the city and other parts of Maharashtra during a bandh called by Dalit groups to protest the violence on the anniversary of a battle fought 200 years ago.

The bandh was called off at 4.30 pm on Wednesday but by that time the city had been brought to a standstill. Autos and taxis would not ply fearing the protesters. Shopkeepers kept their shutters down fearing loss of property. According to reports, the state lost business amounting to Rs 700 crore in the last two days.

Most Mumbaikars preferred to stay at home. Heavy police deployment was seen in sensitive areas, including Thane, Kalwa, Mulund, Chembur and Ramabai Colony in Ghatkopar. Those who stepped out had to face disrupted road traffic. Mumbai local and transport bus services were thrown off the gear amid protests. Mumbai Police confirmed that more than 150 people were detained through the day across the city.

As soon as there is a social or political unrest in the country, the first thing that cripples the state machinery and the citizens is, honestly, none of the above. It is the very-difficult-to-stop-even-harder-to-detect fake news. Fake news, which circulates and mushrooms and reaches your social media fix for the day which then proliferates into individual phones as "forwards."

Below are some of the videos sold to us as "real" but which are actually not real, and in most cases, aren't even from the same day, or year.

Dalits staged protests in suburban Chembur, Ghatkopar, Kamraj Nagar, Vikhroli, Dindoshi, Kandivali, Jogeshwari, Kalanagar and Mahim. Even though there were reports of the city coming to a halt, there were no incidents of any violence reported from any part of Mumbai. Train services were disrupted, however, no commuters were reported injured. This video, however, clearly negates facts. Even though there was no way of verifying when the video was actually shot, it is clearly not what happened yesterday. The police would have surely taken note of it. If not, then the media, that was stationed almost in every part of the city, would have deemed it important enough to feature in their reports. Considering the bandh was the biggest national news on Wednesday.

Sample this video, for example:

We could not verify when was the video recorded or where was it even shot. We don't know whether this is Maharashtra. But what we can assure is that at Wednesday's protests there were no bullets fired. Not a single round. Fake content, like this one, is what makes handling of a difficult situation worse. And those who simply help proliferating this phenomena don't give it a second thought before unmindfully forwarding it. The above video was generously shared on social media. Apart from spreading a false agenda, videos of this nature also breed widespread panic and hysteria.

Another video that fell short of going viral on social media was that of a youth standing atop a parked vehicle and slamming it with a cinder block. The video was shot on the Western Express Highway. When? We couldn't verify that and after checking with local officials we concluded that it is not a clip from Wednesday's protest. If not debunked, this video would surely have festered an environment of anger and hatred.

There were other videos too that were being circulated without being properly vetted and even though the Mumbai Police advised the residents neither to believe nor spread rumours. "Don’t believe or spread rumours, continue with your routine activities. Police administration is geared up to deal with any untoward situation," the Mumbai Police said on Wednesday.

Hundreds of protesters tried to block the Western Express Highway on Wednesday morning but were moved from the spot by police. Incidents of stone-pelting were reported at a few places on the harbour line, a police official said.

Protesters jumped on rail tracks of harbour line at Govandi, Mankhurd and Kurla, due to which suburban services towards Panvel, Belapur and Vashi were stopped for a few hours, the official said. All major arterial roads, including SV Road, Link Road, Eastern Express Highway, Western Express Highway and Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road, were blocked by protesters resulting in chaos. BEST stated that 90 of its buses were damaged due to stone-pelting and four drivers sustained minor injuries.

As bad as all that was, it was nowhere near as bad as what was being put out on those videos.

Updated Date: Jan 04, 2018 15:53:51 IST