A viral WhatsApp message and some social media posts recently claimed that a group of Muslim men had abducted a girl from outside the Quest Mall in Park Circus, Kolkata. This allegedly happened when the girl’s family was waiting for a cab. According to the claims, the security guards of the mall did not help the victim and Kolkata Police refused to register a case against the accused. The girl was ‘dropped back’ two hours later. The viral text message on WhatsApp also says that four such incidents had taken place in the last 10 days.

A verified X (formerly Twitter) user, Sunanda Roy (@SaffronSunanda) shared the ‘news’. Her tweet had received over 1,65,000 views and 3030 retweets before it was deleted.

The claim was forwarded multiple times on WhatsApp. Alt News received a request on its WhatsApp helpline to fact-check the claim.

Quote-tweeting @SaffronSunanda, an X user named Global Democracy Watch (@111gpt) amplified the claim and wrote, “Hindus, do not go to Quest Mall Area, Kolkata.”. (Archive)

Fact Check

Four incidents of kidnapping within a span of 10 days, as claimed in the viral text, amounts to an alarming deterioration of the public safety. So, first, we checked local newspapers for a report on the alleged incidents, but could not find any mention of anything similar.

We noticed that the official X handle of DCP (South East) of Kolkata Police had on X shared a statement calling the message ‘fake’.

Sharing a screenshot of the viral claim, the DCP tweeted, “A fake message regarding Quest Mall is being circulated on social media by some mischievous elements. Kolkata Police assures that no such incident has taken place.” He further added, “A criminal case has been initiated at Karaya PS over the issue. Legal action will be taken against those responsible for spreading such rumors and fake messages.”

We reached out to Quest Mall vice-president, Sanjeev Mehra who stated that the viral claim ws false and that Kolkata Police was taking necessary steps. He stated, “There seems to be a continuous pattern to harm the image of Quest Mall because false claims regarding the mall were also spread in the past.”

The Quest Mall authorities lodged a formal police complaint which was turned into an FIR under Sections 504, 505(2), 509 and 120(b) at the Kolkata’s Karaya police station. The FIR states, “Sometime before 16/03/24 unknown miscreants entered into criminal conspiracy and in pursuant to that circulated fake, fabricated, misleading and unverified rumour including insulting the modesty of women in general with an intention to provoke serious breach of peace, law and order, communal harmony as well as to promote hatred amongst people of different locality and religion, causing feeling of enmity and hatred amongst different religious communities and different localities.”

We accessed another complaint letter submitted to police by the mall authorities.

Alt News also spoke to people near the Quest Mall. A local resident, Sabir, refuted the viral claim. He stated that no such incident of abduction or kidnapping happened near Quest Mall. Jumman, a local taxi driver, said he had never heard such allegations. Ahmad, a local shop owner, also refuted the viral claim stating, ”This is a false claim. There has been no such incident near Quest Mall area. The Karaya police station is only a few minutes away (from the mall) and the officials regularly go on rounds in the locality. So, if such an incident happened, the locals and the police would have been surely informed.”

Speaking to Alt News, Joint CP (Crime) of Kolkata police Syed Waquar Raza said, “No such incident (as the one reported in the viral WhatsApp message) has come to our knowledge. As far as the false claims on social media are concerned, we are investigating the case. Action will be taken against those found involved.”

To sum up, the entire claim about an incident of kidnapping of a girl from Kolkata’s Quest Mall area is unfounded and false. The viral message on WhatsApp and the social media claims are fake.

In May 2023, an incident of around 25 people residing around the Quest Mall entering the shopping centre for a brief period after their area was without electricity for several hours was given a communal spin and social media posts around the incident took on a hateful, Islamophobic tone.

Abira Das is an intern at Alt News.

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