It is with headlines like ‘This is the real face of Indians’, ‘Religiously motivated murder by Hindu fanatics’ that Pakistani media shared the news and video of the murder of ‘body builder, Naveed Pathan’. Some even went through the trouble of finding images of Naveed posing in body building competitions and posted them in the same articles where the lead image was of a man who looked nothing like a body builder. The cycle of fake news had rolled across the border.
The news in question is the brutal public murder of Rafiquddin Shaikh in Dhule, Maharashtra, committed by a group of armed men on July 20. There was no communal angle to the murder. How did the video make it to Pakistani media as the murder of body builder Naveed Pathan by Hindu fanatics? Let us find out.
The fake news cycle
The murder of Shaikh was caught on a nearby CCTV camera. Soon enough, the video was being circulated on social media and with no definitive coverage available, users took the liberty to create their own accompanying accounts.
In the melee, the video was somehow picked up by social media users in Pakistan too, one of them being a Twitter user named Rabia Baluch – who appears to be a person of Pakistani origin located in Belgium. Rabia first posted a clip from the video on July 20.
**Content warning: Graphic violence**
Rabia’s first tweet about this incident was retweeted 400+ times and an almost identical tweet the next day was retweeted more than 2,000 times.
The tweets made some very specific claims:
- This video is from Ahmedabad, Gujarat
- The armed attackers are Hindu militants / Modi supporters
- The victim is a Muslim meat seller and;
- The reason behind the attack is alleged sale of beef by the victim.
Now, at first glance, all of these seem plausible. Several incidents of violence over alleged consumption of beef or transportation of cattle have been in the news recently.
As it turns out, that is not the case here. As we mentioned above, this shocking video is from Dhule in Maharashtra, not Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Additionally:
While Rafiquddin Shaikh is indeed Muslim, he is not a meat seller, but a convicted criminal and alleged gangster.
The reason behind Rafiquddin’s murder is not beef related. His murderers aren’t communally charged strangers, but members of a rival gang – one of whom has already been arrested.
So, by the looks of it, debunking these claims should have been easy enough. However, as is often the case with hate, it somehow manages to find incomplete information and avoid actual facts.
Lost in translation
A seemingly well-meaning Indian user @realpongapandit tried to correct Rabia that it was not a communally incited murder over beef. However he wrongly attributed the video to the murder of a bodybuilder named Naveed Pathan in Amravati (also Maharashtra) and even attaches a Hindi newspaper clipping describing the crime.
It was easy to get confused between the Rafiquddin and Naveed murders as they happened around the same time. There were other similarities between the two as both were Muslim men from Maharashtra who were killed publicly by a group of attackers known to them. Most importantly, neither was a communally motivated murder. Both incidents occurred over personal animosity – while the former was a gang rivalry, the latter was reportedly over a gym-related dispute. As a matter of fact, Naveed’s alleged murderers are themselves Muslim.
Sadly, those facts weren’t enough. While some apparently believed Ponga Pandit’s word about the video grab being of a bodybuilder named Naveed, the faulty narrative about it being a communal incident over beef remained unchanged.
It didn’t help that the newspaper clipping Pandit included was in Hindi and therefore could not be read by most users in Pakistan. This is evident from this tweet by Rabia Baluch where she uses the same clipping along with communally divisive language – even as the clipping itself tells a different story:
While twitter users with easily-inflamed tempers and un-researched information are expected to fall for propaganda, one expects more from large publications and media houses. Sadly, in this case, that was found absent too.
By July 23, only three days after Rabia’s first tweet on the matter, sections of Pakistani media were running the video grab of Rafiquddin’s killing as that of Naveed Pathan. Each of these stories by Media outlets such as Tribune, Samaa TV, News TV and Pakistan Khuda Hafiz was shared hundreds of times by readers who obviously believed each word.
A simple search on Twitter using hashtag #naveedpathan pulls up hundreds of results from Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, most of them are attributing the killing to Hindu fanatics:
While a murder like this is heinous and horrible – even when the victim is an alleged criminal – what is even worse is use of such footage to peddle hate and divisiveness.
We have seen communally sensitive situations in India being inflamed by right wing elements through use of old images of violence from other countries. As if the actual incidents of communal mob violence towards Muslims in India weren’t enough, now we have fake news stories along with disturbing visuals being passed off in Pakistan as religiously motivated murders of Muslims in India. Something like this can easily lead to inciting hate and violence against Hindus, who are a religious minority in Pakistan. The cycle of fake news is a vicious and self sustaining one. We must put the brakes on it with all our might.