In an article published on May 9, OpIndia claimed that a 15-year-old boy Rohit was sacrificed in a mosque in Bihar’s Gopalganj. Our investigation found that the story was false. Gopalganj police has also filed an FIR against the outlet for publishing a fabricated report. On May 19, OpIndia’s CEO Rahul Roushan penned an article on his platform expressing concern that his editors are being targeted for the story and claimed that the only place where the editors were at fault was believing the statements of the victim’s father. In this report, we will show that even this statement is untrue and how OpIndia promoted false claims one report after the other despite evidence saying otherwise.
The crux of OpIndia’s claim
In its updated story published on May 17, OpIndia presented only part of the statement given by Rohit’s father, Rajesh Jaiswal. This was the part where he spoke of the sacrifice in a mosque. However, a few days later Rajesh clarified that he did not state this as a matter of fact but speculation. OpIndia shared the interactions it had with Rajesh on May 9 and May 14. He talked about the ‘mosque sacrifice’ claim on May 9. On May 14, he said that these were just suspicions he had in his mind.
Two points are to be noted here —
First, OpIndia did not present the complete audio of its interaction with the victim’s father. It was uploaded in bits and pieces. In the video itself the outlet wrote, “We are only uploading the relevant portion.” However, which statement is necessary and which isn’t cannot be determined by the party accused of publishing false information.
Second, how many times did OpIndia speak with the victim’s father between May 9 and May 14? The outlet wrote at least 5-6 articles during this time. Did Rajesh always claim that Rohit was murdered in a mosque? Did he ever make the claim after May 9? Was this the basis for OpIndia to declare the postmortem report false? There is no clarity on any of these questions.
What should have been the appropriate course of action? OpIndia should have asked Rajesh his reasons for bringing up ‘mosque’ in his conversation. The outlet published a grieving father’s speculations as a matter of fact. This is not only irresponsible journalism but unethical because the story was capable of sparking communal tensions. Had OpIndia referred to the FIR filed by Rajesh, spoken to the local police and paid heed to the postmortem report, there is no way that the story would’ve seen the light of day with the ‘sacrificed in a mosque’ angle. The outlet should have also questioned Rajesh about why he did not mention the mosque claim on the FIR?
OpIndia strives to establish itself as a fact-checking website however the outlet was miles away from ‘facts’ in its reportage on the Gopalganj case. Maybe because this was an opportunity to further the right-wing propaganda it openly espouses. We had observed similar propaganda in OpIndia’s coverage of IB staffer Ankit Sharma’s murder during communal riots in Delhi. It claimed that Sharma’s dead body had 400 knife wounds and that he was stabbed continuously for 4-6 hours. All of this was false. The postmortem report mentioned the presence of 13 wounds on Sharma’s dead body however the propaganda had already reached such heights that the country’s home minister presented the false information on record.
Alt News had spoken with Rajesh Jaiswal during our investigation of OpIndia’s false story. This was a man in shock and grief of losing his child. His state of mind was such that he was looking for answers in every corner. He wanted no stone left unturned to find the truth behind Rohit’s death. At no point during our interaction with him did Rajesh claim that his son was sacrificed in a mosque. In fact, he completely denied that the incident had any Hindu-Muslim angle. After OpIndia’s story blaming a grieving father for giving false information, we again contacted Rajesh. He told us that the police is investigating the case. He sounded more hopeful than the last time. “It is a good thing that the SHO has been suspended. We are no longer averse to going back to the village and staying in our house. But that house has too many memories of Rohit — memories that scare the other children. We cannot return yet,” he said. We informed him that he was being blamed for taking a one-eighty on his earlier statements to which he responded that he doesn’t remember everything that he said. “No one can understand my mental state. The condition of a man who lost a young child. Even if we assume that he died of drowning, why didn’t the other kids come and inform us? What was the need to keep it from us? Why did they hide Rohit’s clothes?” His questions were reasonable. “No one can bring back my son but the truth will surely unfold,” he said.
Claim 1: Rohit was murdered
In the report published on May 16, Alt News revealed how 40 days after the death of 15-year-old Rohit in Bihar’s Gopalganj, OpIndia took interest in the case and presented it with a communal angle. OpIndia claimed that Rohit was sacrificed in a mosque. However, we laid out several aspects of the case which prove that he died of drowning. Bihar police had also filed an FIR against OpIndia on May 16.
Subsequently, that same day, OpIndia editor Nupur Sharma tweeted that Rohit was indeed murdered and his father was taking back his words. She wrote that Rajesh maintained that ‘Muslims’ had sprinkled water on his son. Without addressing the communal angle presented in their report, Sharma claimed that an FIR was filed against OpIndia for publishing the father’s version.
A boy is murdered. His father says ‘muslims killed him’. He first said he was sacrificed in a mosque, then said ‘I don’t remember’ but maintained that Muslims sprinkled water on him. FIR is filed against OpIndia for publishing father’s version. But the truth cannot be defeated
— Nupur J Sharma (@UnSubtleDesi) May 16, 2020
While OpIndia’s editor was sternly asserting that Rohit was murdered, not a single evidence cropped up during the police’s ongoing investigating hinted the same.
On May 19, Bihar DGP Gupteshwar Pandey uploaded a 38-minute video on his YouTube channel of the police’s investigation at the site where Rohit’s dead body was recovered. Pandey spoke with Rohit’s family members, the accused persons. the doctor who conducted the postmortem and locals. None of them suggested that Rohit was sacrificed in a mosque.
The DGP also jumped inside the river where Rohit’s dead body was found. He informed that the depth of the water was around 12 feet and that the water level was higher in March. A cattle grazer had told the police that he has spotted Rohit and the four other boys swimming in the river. His statement can be heard at the 17th minute in the video, “I had seen all the five boys come to the river. No other sixth person was present with them. I do not know how the boy died.”
Local journalists following up on the story said that there was no communal angle in the case. They spoke with both the victim’s family and the family of the accused persons. None of the local reports mentioned that the incident was communally-motivated, the journalists informed. This angle suddenly appeared a month later after OpIndia picked up the story.
Dr Ashok Kumar Akela who conducted the postmortem can be heard at 19 minutes into the video. He informed that the trachea had mud and the lungs had turned spongy. A dissection of the lungs revealed air bubbles which hints that Rohit died of drowning. Another doctor Ranjeev Kumar’s opinion was taken on the matter. He also said that it is likely that the cause of death is drowning. Dr Kumar further stated that the dead body had blood spots near the nose and the mouth which could raise suspicions. However, he also said that such wounds might develop when someone falls down but this cannot be a reason for death.
At the 22nd minute, the DGP speaks with all the minor children one by one. They said that all of them were friends and used to frequently go for swims. They did the same on that fateful day but not in their usual spot. The kids were diving into the water but remained near the edge of the river. Rohit, however, jumped further into the water and began to drown. They waited for him to come out but he didn’t. The children got scared and decided to not tell anyone about what happened.
Claim 2: All accused were Muslims
OpIndia claimed in its report that all accused were Muslims. However, initial reports and the victim’s father’s statement clarify that one of the minors named in the FIR was a Hindu. He was the one who called Rohit from his house but this found no mention in OpIndia’s report.
OpIndia changed the title of its report after DGP’s statement
After an FIR was filed against OpIndia, the outlet claimed that its report was completely based on the father’s statement. But this argument falls flat even if we assume that OpIndia is speaking the truth. The titles of all its reports read ‘case of sacrifice in mosque’. This wasn’t attributed to the victim’s father but presented as a fact. Some of the articles that carried this phrase which was later removed by OpIndia are given below.
1. “Hindu family leaves Gopalganj district in Bihar due to fear, claims their minor son was sacrificed to make a local Mosque ‘powerful’.” This was changed to — “Hindu family leaves Gopalganj district in Bihar due to fear after their minor son was killed.”
2. “Gopalganj mosque sacrifice case: 4 accused arrested by the police, silence on the family’s charges” OpIndia changed this title to — “No enmity with anyone, only want justice for my son: Pleads victim Rohit Jaiswal’s father.”
3. “No enmity with anyone, only want justice for my son: Father of the victim in ‘Goapalganj mosque sacrifice case’ plead” was changed to “No enmity with anyone, only want justice for my son: Pleads victim Rohit Jaiswal’s father.”
Subsequently, OpIndia removed the words ‘mosque’ and ‘sacrifice’ from its reports and began pinning the blame on the grieving father. It is noteworthy that in none of the videos attached in OpIndia’s story did Rajesh Jaiswal make any reference to his son sacrificed in a mosque. A screenshot of OpIndia’s initial report and the one that they later changed have been given below.
The repercussion of OpIndia’s fabricated report
The story took social media by storm with many BJP supporters relentlessly promoting it through their Twitter accounts. One of the names that first comes up is Prashant Patel Umrao. We had earlier published a dedicated report on Umrao’s trysts with misinformation. He made multiple tweets on the Gopalganj case where he promoted the ‘sacrifice in a mosque’ angle. His tweets were retweeted thousands of times.
On May 16, Umrao added his own spice to the story and claimed that the Maulvi of the mosque where Rohit was sacrificed has absconded. The DGP had himself stated that the village, Kataiya, has no mosque or Maulvi.
National spokesperson of VHP Vijay Shankar Tiwari also tweeted the same mosque angle on May 11 in a provocative tweet.
बिहार के गोपालगंज से खबर आ रही है कि मस्जिद को शक्तिशाली बनाने के लिए 15 वर्षीय रोहित जयसवाल की बलि दे दी जाती है।और बलि देने वाले होते हैं शांति दूत जो आबादी में केवल 15% हैं लेकिन 40% संसाधनों
पर क़ब्ज़ा कर रखा है।क्या अब 25% आबादी होने की प्रतीक्षा है।स्वयं सिंह बनों।
— Vijay Shankar Tiwari (@VijayVst0502) May 11, 2020
Other usual suspects who promoted the false claim were Sanjay Dixit and Payal Rohatgi.
OpIndia and several others attempted to give a boy’s death in Bihar’s Gopalganj a communal colour despite the police investigation and the family’s statement supporting no such claims. OpIndia is now trying to pin the entire blame on the victim’s father to rid itself of all responsibility.
OpIndia’s Hindi editor @ajeetbharti put out a video in which he repeatedly labeled the father as a ‘liar’. Watch this 44 seconds clip to see the number of times the grieving father has been targeted by OpIndia.
Full video: https://t.co/v0GFMuCO1M
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) May 17, 2020
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