The Sabarimala hill shrine in Thiruvananthapuram has had a chaotic week as thousands of pilgrims started arriving for the annual pilgrimage. On December 10, TOI reported that pilgrims lost their patience after waiting in queues for over 18 hours and breached barricades. This resulted in an uncontrollable rush near the steps. Authorities were finally able to control the rush on December 12, after days of intense efforts that combined a scaling up of services and limiting the inflow of pilgrims.

Against this backdrop, a video of a child crying for his father inside a bus, repeatedly shouting ‘Appa’ (Malayali term for ‘father’), is circulating on social media with users claiming that the scene represents the ‘plight of Hindus in Kerala’, a state led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Vice-president & spokesperson of Iskcon Kolkata, Radharaman Das, tweeted the video and claimed that the child was ‘detained by police for practising Sanatan Dharma’. Das later deleted his tweet. Below is a screenshot.

Hindu activist and founder of Hindu Seva Kendra, Pratheesh Viswanath, shared the viral video and the tweet garnered over 140000 views. (Archive)

Right Wing influencer Rishi Bagree also tweeted the video and claimed that government authorities “cracked down” on Hindu devotees and that even children weren’t spared. Other RW influencers who tweeted the video with similar claims include @MrSinha_ and @randomsena. (Archives- 1, 2, 3)

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Other verified accounts which tweeted the viral video with similar claims included @ajaychauhan41, @RashmiDVS, @Incognito_qfs, @curlykrazy07, @changu311, @BattaKashmiri, @thakkar_sameet, @Sunil_Deodhar, @Lotus_indrajit, @Alphat00nist, @desi_thug1 and @Warlock_Shabby.

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Fact Check

Upon a reverse image search of a key frame from the viral video, we came across a report by Asianet News titled, “Sabarimala rush: Heart-wrenching video of crying child seeking help to find his father emerges”. We discovered, from the report, that the video being circulated online showed only a section of what transpired. In a longer version of the video, the child is seen spotting his father and waving at him. Asianet News shared a longer version of the video with us.

At the beginning of the 34-second clip, the child is seen desperately looking for his father while a policeman, evident through the Khaki uniform and the shoulder sleeve insignia, tries to comfort him at 0:10.

At the 0:27-second mark, the boy spots his father and is seen extending his arm from the bus towards him, who signals for him to wait, while the boy calls out to him. The child seems to have calmed down to some extent by then.

Asianet News also tweeted the video of the incident. At the end, the child is seen waving his hand.

It is quite clear from the chain of events that neither were the authorities holding him hostage nor was he ill-treated because he was a Hindu. The boy was separated from his parent amidst the rush at Sabarimala hilltop, a common occurrence at crowded places.

Moreover, some of the users claimed that the boy was detained by the police, owing to his religion. While probing this claim, we noticed that the vehicle number plate, which was legible in the video posted by Asianet News, read KL-15 A-814.

Upon a Google search of the number, we found that the vehicle was a government bus. The number ‘KL-15’ is registered in Thiruvananthapuram under the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation. The logo of the KSRTC matches the logo seen on the bus. Below is a comparison.

We spoke to Kerala Police PRO Pramod Kumar, who rubbished the viral claims. He said “We’re not allowing pilgrims’ vehicles to proceed beyond Nilakkal, which is the Sabarimala basecamp. So all the pilgrims have to travel to Pamba via state-owned bus services. The child in the video had boarded the bus, but his father got left behind. But before the bus proceeded, we could track his father down and he entered the bus. They were not even separated in that sense. It was only a matter of two or three minutes before the child was reunited with the father. Some people are misinterpreting the incident on social media”.

Thus, it is clear that a clip of a boy who got separated from his father for a brief while amid the rush at Sabarimala Temple is viral with the misleading claim that the scene represents the ‘plight of Hindus’ in Kerala.

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About the Author

Student of Economics at Presidency University. Interested in misinformation.