Karnataka witnessed close to 600 deaths due to COVID on May 8, its highest since the start of the pandemic. The infection shows no signs of decelerating as the state recorded 48,781 fresh cases in the last 24 hours. But Karnataka is also witnessing a rise in communal disinformation. BJP MP Tejasvi Surya recently accused Muslim employees of the South Bangalore COVID war room of a bed-for-bribe scam. All the 17 employees have now been given clean chits and will rejoin duties, needless to say with broken morales. But an organised attempt to vilify the state’s Muslim population continues on social media.

[Read: How BJP MP Tejasvi Surya communalised BBMP bed scam with misinformation]

Postcard News Kannada, one of the most popular names in the disinformation ecosystem (its English vertical was banned by Facebook), has claimed that 5-8 Muslims have tie-ups with certain agencies and are making Rs 7-8,000 per funeral for those who passed away due to COVID. The agencies make Rs 35,000 for the deal.

[Read: Postcard ‘News’ – A mega factory of fake news that continues to spew venom]

Posted by Postcard ಕನ್ನಡ on Thursday, 6 May 2021

The claim was also shared by Postcard News founder Mahesh Vikram Hegde. It drew over 2,200 shares from his account as of this writing. In 2018, Hegde was arrested by Bangalore police crime branch for promoting the false news that a Jain monk was attacked by Muslims in Bangalore.

Posted by Mahesh Vikram Hegde on Friday, 7 May 2021

The complete text overlayed on the graphic reads, “Did you know this? Agencies are making a deal of Rs 35,000 for the last rites of COVID deceased in Bangalore. These agencies outsource dead bodies to 5-8 Muslims for Rs 7-8,000. At the time of cremation ‘topi’ wearing Muslims pose performing social service and spread its (positive) images on social media. This is a huge scam, the government must investigate such reprehensible (low life) acts and arrest them.”

Hegde has also shared the claim in English to reach a larger audience.

False anti-Muslim propaganda

Postcard News has used two mages to support the claim. The photograph on top in the graphic was tweeted by chief photojournalist with PTI Manvender Vashist on May 2. “After the sudden death of a Hindu friend’s family member, two Muslim brothers helped in the last rites. The family consisted of only a woman and her child. It is disheartening that the family had to look for four shoulders to take the body to the cremation ground,” he wrote.

Postcard News picked up this photograph and added fictional communal overtones. Moreover, this funeral did not take place in Kannada but in Delhi’s Old Seemapuri cremation grounds.

Now, coming to the second picture. After the graphic went viral in Karnataka social media, Lokesh, the son of the deceased, addressed the disinformation via video.

“My name is Lokesh. I was very sad after seeing the post because this was my father who passed away due to COVID. There was no one to help us out of fear. I got PFI’s number and I called them at 2 am. They came at 6 am, carried the funeral rites as per Hindu rituals. They got their own vehicle without charging a Rupee. They brought everything that was required in order to help us. In the end, they said that they were doing social service and would not charge any money from anyone. They refused to take money even for diesel. We have referred them to other friends as well. They also brought their ambulance free of cost and performed the last rites,” he said.

He further added, “Posting fake posters in such times is wrong. I don’t know if you’re doing this for politics or you hate them. But it’s wrong. You help if you can. If you can’t, why make such posts? Who asked you to file a police complaint? Whoever you are, come to Nelamangala, investigate then take a decision. Don’t simply put fake videos and posters and trouble others.”

Speaking with Alt News, Lokesh said that his father’s funeral was held on May 5. He had passed away the day before.

Lokesh was referred to PFI by his cousin Muniraju. “PFI men came at 6 am and brought their own PPE suits, ambulance, and performed the rituals as per our custom. Our immediate family was scared to touch the body, but the PFI men did the rituals following Hindus customs,” Muniraju told Alt News.

He also shared visuals from the cremation ground. The person in the cloth mask is Lokesh.

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Alt News also reached out to PFI volunteer Farhan Pasha. “I received a call at around 2 am on May 5. The patient had died while in the ICU in a hospital in Nelamangala. The hospital staff told the family that other patients were panicking and wanted the body to be taken as soon as possible. We need at least six men for the work. Our volunteers were only available in the morning so we went at 6 am. The last rites were performed as per their rituals. Eight of us, including me, were there in the cremation ground,” he said, adding that his organisation had also performed rituals during the first wave. “We performed only four funeral rites last year but this time we have already performed 15,” he informed. The volunteers carry funeral services across religious lines.

Postcard News Kannada fabricated a story to stir anti-Muslim sentiments. It used a photograph of the funeral rites of a man who died of COVID to support a baseless claim. The family of the deceased had to counter the misinformation widespread on WhatsApp in local Karnataka circles.

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Co-Founder Alt News, I can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/zoo_bear