Irresponsible media reports spark anger against Muslims and Kerala in elephant death case

The death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala after she was allegedly “fed” a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers sparked massive outrage in the country. The tragic incident started trending on social media after celebrities and politicians condemned the inhuman ordeal. Many demanded that the perpetrators should be given the strictest punishment. Since then, several individuals are mocking the condition of ‘education’ in Kerala, the state with the highest literacy rate in the country. More importantly, as with most other issues in India, the helpless animal’s death has provoked a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment.

BJP MP Maneka Gandhi tweeted, “Mallapuram is know for its intense criminal activity specially with regards to animals. No action has ever been taken against a single poacher or wildlife killer so they keep doing it.” She claimed that the incident took place in Malappuram (misspelt as ‘Mallapuram’ in Gandhi’s tweet), a Muslim-dominated district. Gandhi repeated the same in a byte to ANI.

In a tweet thread, Pakistani-Canadian author Tarek Fatah shared a report by NDTV and blamed Muslims for the elephant’s death.

Incident from Palakkad, not Malappuram

The report by NDTV shared by Tarek Fatah and several other individuals has now been updated. While it earlier claimed that the elephant died in Malappuram, the article’s updated version reads Palakkad.

The author of the report Shylaja Verma tweeted a clarification that she got the district’s name wrong.

That the incident occurred in Palakkad was also tweeted by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

Kerala Forest Minister K Raju said the same.

Misinformation widespread, most share NDTV’s erroneous report

Several individuals either shared a link or a screenshot of the report by NDTV. Below is a tweet by Pratheesh Viswanath, founder of Hindu Sena Kendra. The article claimed that the elephant died in Malappuram.

Other usual suspects who claimed that the incident took place in Malappuram were Arun Pudur, Payal Rohatgi and @IAmMayank_. Pudur wrote, “Now tell me about 100% literacy & who is majority in Mallapuram?”

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar also claimed that the incident occurred in Malappuram.

Misinformation promoted by the media

Not only NDTV, but several other media outlets claimed that the tragic incident took place in Malappuram. In fact, many continue to misreport – Republic, Hindustan Times, Times Now, India TV, The Economic Times, India Today, ANI, News Nation, among others.

Another error later updated in NDTV’s report

A visible alteration in the report by NDTV, apart from the Malappuram misreport, is the change in the phrase “elephant fed pineapple stuffed with crackers” to “elephant ate pineapple stuffed with crackers”.

The investigation of the elephant’s death is ongoing and the exact details of the incident are yet to be determined. However, the initial probe suggests that the wild animal was not directly fed a pineapple laden with firecrackers but she may have accidentally consumed it.

Speaking with Alt News, KK Sunil Kumar, Mannarkkad Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), said, “There is no evidence that pineapple was eaten by the elephant along with the explosives. She may have taken the explosive with any fruit, maybe pineapple. But this is an assumption. No such evidence was found in the postmortem.”

Journalist Dhanya Rajendra tweeted details about the postmortem report which says, “Injuries in oral cavity, most likely due to an explosive blast in the mouth.”

Kumar further stated that it is a common practice in forest areas for locals to place country bombs to keep away wild animals from agricultural land. “Iron wires are mostly used for the purpose so that when an animal tries to cross, the explosives burst and the animals are kept away. But sometimes people also use these explosives along with food for capturing wild boars or some other smaller animal. Perhaps this elephant ate such a material. We don’t know for sure.”

“According to forest department officials investigating the case, such snares known as ‘panni padakam’ (pig crackers) in Malayalam are commonly used to hunt down wild boars, usually for their meat. In other cases, farmers who wish to ward off wild boar attacks on their land also set up similar traps, although illegal,” reads another report in The News Minute.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden Surendrakumar told The News Minute that the elephant’s injuries showed that she was wounded due to an explosive. “This much we can say for sure now. Who was behind it and what happened, we are investigating,” he told the outlet.

Using explosives to kill, capture or wade off animals is a common practice employed in many states. Last year, a country-made explosive meant for animals went off killing one person in Telangana. A cracker meant to kill wild pigs exploded in Bengaluru in 2014 and injured two persons. In 2017, a cow had accidentally chewed one such explosive in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha. Soon after, false news promoted by ShankhNaad claimed that Muslims fed crackers to the cow. Alt News had debunked the communal misinformation. Our report can be read here.

To summarise, incorrect information put out by NDTV and several other mainstream media outlets led people to believe that the incident took place in Kerala’s Malappuram district when in fact it happened in Palakkad. Since Malappuram is a Muslim-majority district, the case expectedly took an anti-Muslim turn. Furthermore, premature media reports blamed villagers for feeding a pineapple filled with firecrackers to the animal. However, the initial probe by forest officials suggests that she may have fallen prey to a trap that is meant to keep out animals from agricultural areas. The investigation is ongoing and an FIR has been registered against unidentified persons. More details are awaited.

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