On June 20, Tanvi Seth, in a series of tweets, informed External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that she and her husband were allegedly humiliated by Lucknow passport officer Vikas Mishra for being an interfaith couple. Mishra was subsequently transferred and the couple’s passports were issued the next day. What followed was an abusive Twitter campaign targeting EAM Sushma Swaraj. In the midst of the hate spewed on social media, a lot of misinformation was also propagated. Among the ones who circulated false information, Prashant Patel Umaro and Jagrati Shukla came out on top.

1. “Sushma Swaraj changed passport rules in retrospect to save the interfaith couple”

Lawyer Prashant Patel tweeted on July 3 that EAM Sushma Swaraj launched Passport Seva mobile application on June 27 and changes rules retrospectively to “save Sadia Anas Siddiqui & to hide her mistake.”

Patel’s tweet was liked by more than 4,000 people and retweeted 2,700 times.

On the occasion of the 6th Passport Seva Divas on June 26, MEA Sushma Swaraj announced that the Passport Seva mobile application is now available for citizens to apply for passports online. Patel claimed that the “rules” would be retrospectively applicable from June 5 onward to benefit Tanvi Seth and her husband.

While Patel has not specifically stated which “rule” he thinks is altered, he might be talking about regulations on marriage certificate since the entire controversy hovers around Tanvi’s name in her Nikahnama. Married applicants needed to produce their marriage certificate at the time of applying for passports. However, this was scrapped in 2016. Irrespective of gender, married applicants also no longer need to mention their spouse’s names. Considering that the rules that Prashant Patel was alluding to were already in place since 2016, there can be no question of retrospectively changing them.

Furthermore, Alt News scrutinized mPassport Seva’s history on Google Play and found that it was launch on July 11, 2013, suggesting that it was conceived by the previous UPA Government. The most recent update to the app was made on July 3, 2018. Media reports (1 & 2) give June 5 as an earlier date of update.

With the Union Government’s increased focus on e-governance, multiple mobile apps have been released by different departments of the Government. Mobile apps expand the reach of e-governance services to individuals and families who cannot afford a computer but do own a phone. In this specific case, the Ministry of External Affairs launched the app in order to make the passport application process smoother and faster, and not to “change” rules.

2. “Tanvi Seth applied for passport on her previous Hindu name and gave false address”

Jagrati Shukla claimed that Tanvi did not apply for a passport on her real name (that reflects in the Nikahnama) and that she produced false information regarding her residence.

The same was reiterated by Prashant Patel earlier, who had been continuously making provocative tweets since Tanvi’s tweet on June 20.

These are misinformed claims for the following reasons:

A. Marriage certificate is not mandatory for passport application

Tanvi’s name in her Nikahnama is irrelevant because marriage certificate is not a compulsory document that needs to be submitted to get a passport. The government had in December 2016 announced new passport rules. Among other things, the new rules clarify “no affidavit or marriage certificate required for married applicants.” Separated, divorced or deserted couples also no longer need to fill Annexure K.

B. Tanvi did not provide a wrong address but her permanent address

Earlier, Lucknow police had submitted an adverse report to RPO Lucknow saying that Tanvi had not been living in the city for the past one year but was residing in Noida. However, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar clarified that “Tanvi had submitted her Aadhaar and a joint bank account for proof of address which was the same as the address mentioned in her application form. Therefore the issue of passport to Tanvi Seth was found in order based on the existing rules.”

3. “Tanvi was denied H1 visa for the U.S as her old passport had her Muslim name”

BJP MP Subramanian Swamy was the first to question if Tanvi was denied H1 visa because she bore an Islamic name, Sadia Anas. Swamy’s tweet has over 10,000 likes and more than 4,000 retweets.

Prashant Patel was quick to tweet the same, adding that she was working with Dell but was denied H1 visa to work in the U.S. He claimed that she “created drama” to get a new passport with a Hindu name because her old one bore the name “Sadia Anas”.

Alt News contacted the Ministry of External Affairs and we were told that Tanvi didn’t have an “old passport”. Since, this was the first time that she was issued a passport, it would be impossible for Tanvi to apply for a visa without having a passport, thus eliminating the possibility of ‘visa rejection’ as claimed on social media.

4. “NDTV UP Head Kamal Khan conspired with the couple to give the issue a communal angle”

Prashant Patel claimed that “NDTV UP head Kamal Khan had conspired with Sadia (Tanvi Seth) & Anas Siddiqui & gave communal colour to the passport issue to defame Hindus.” His tweet has more than 7,000 likes has been retweeted over 4,200 times.

The same was reiterated by Ritu Rathaur, who had earlier shared the viral photoshopped image of “Lingayath Catholic Church”. Fake news website Dainik Bharat Hindi published an article on Kamal Khan and his wife Ruchi Kumar of India TV, claiming that they helped Tanvi play the “religious card”.

NDTV denied the allegations. On behalf of Kamal Khan, they told Alt News that “he doesn’t know the couple at all. He has never met them personally before his interview with them, as did other channels. These claims are absolutely untrue.” Khan, in his capacity as a reporter, was contacted by Anas on June 20, however, NDTV did not take up the story because neither did Khan know Anas nor had a complaint been filed. It was after Tanvi’s tweets and the filing of a complaint that NDTV decided to do a story.

There is often an attempt to create fake narratives around controversial issues that find a prominent space in the public sphere. A similar pattern was observed in the aftermath of Mandsaur rape where multiple instances of misinformation were circulated on social media. Photoshopped images were shared to discredit a protest march carried out by members of the Muslim community. The ‘Tanvi Seth passport issue’ was blown out of proportion by the immense circulation of misinformation and trolling.

Prashant Patel was among the ones who fanned the trolling received by Swaraj. Alt News has on numerous occasions called out Umrao’s bluff. Ironically, he was an attendee at BJP social media meet where Amit Shah advised against fake news. In 2016, Jagrati Shukla called for genocide in Kashmir and also justified the killing of Sikhs in the 1984 riots. At times such as these, it is not only pertinent to be on a lookout for rumour-mongers but citizens need to be extra careful before believing any social media claims.

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About the Author

Pooja Chaudhuri is a senior editor at Alt News.