Viral audio falsely claims Muslim vendors have sprung up in Surat to spread coronavirus

A 6:24 minute audio clip is circulating on messaging applications such as WhatsApp. In the audio clip, a man introduces himself as a resident of City Light area of Surat, Gujarat and warns citizens about the ‘unprecedented’ presence of Muslim hawkers in their area. He claims that while he was taking his morning walk he saw at least 15-16 three-wheeler tempos with Muslim boys selling vegetables and fruits. For instance, he says that he saw one person selling onions at prices lower than the market rates and questioned their motive for doing so. He then refers to a video of a fruit seller who was licking his fingers and touching fruits. This was recently fact-checked by Alt News and found to be erroneously linked to spreading coronavirus. “Somewhere there is a doubt arising,” he kees reiterating and informs that he wants to caution his “Hindu brothers” as this is his duty as a Hindu. “If we Hindus don’t come together that there will be a big problem ahead. It’s possible that they [Muslims] are running their Jihad by doing this,” he says and concludes the message by asking the Hindu community to boycott Muslim vendors and not buy eatables from them for at least a month or so. The man urges listeners to make this clip viral in hopes that this audio reaches Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and other government officers.

Excerpt in Hindi: “आज मेने अनोखी घटना देखी और क्यूंकि कोरोना वायरस के बीमारी बोहोत ज्यादा फेल रही है इसलिए आपसे प्राथना करता हूँ की इसको पूरा सुने और सुनने के बाद आपको जो निर्णय सही लगे आप वो करे। में आज सुबह मॉर्निंग वाक पर निकला, में जब मॉर्निंग वाक पर निकलता हूँ तोह में दूध और सब्ज़ी भी ले आता हूँ। पर आज मुझे मेरे एरिया में सात-आठ साल हो गए यहाँ रहते रहते, आज पहली बार मैने एक अनोखी बात देखी, सुबह वाक करते करते की हर चार रस्ते पे, गली के नुकड़ पे, करीब पांच किलोमीटर मेरी मॉर्निंग वाक में करीब १५-१६ जितने मेने थ्री व्हीलर टेम्पो देख जिसमे मुस्लिम लड़के सब्जी और फ्रूट्स बेच रहे थे। ये इसलिए मुझे शंका पैदा होती है के पांच-सात साल से में यहाँ रहता हूँ, मेने आज दिन तक इन लोगों को नहीं देखा। ये पहली बार मुस्लिम लड़को को थ्री व्हीलर टेम्पो में सब्ज़ी और फ्रूट्स बेचते देखा। अब क्यूंकि कोरोना वायरस चल रहा है फेल रहा है। और तीन-चार दिन से में भी न्यूज़ देख रहा हूँ के तब्लीग़ी जमात, तब्लीग़ी समाज के मुस्लिम को कोरोना पॉजिटिव होने के बावज़ूद क्वारंटाइन में नहीं रहना चाहते है और भागना चाहते है वहाँ से तो एक शंका पैदा होती है की क्या वो भाग करके के हिन्दू एरिया में जा करके कोरोना को हिन्दू लोगो में फूलना चाहते है। महामारी पैदा करना चाहते है। अब जो मेने आज जो घटना मेने आठ साल में नहीं देखी कभी।”

Surat resident manufactures a communally-charged false audio message

On April 4, the Detection of Crime Branch, Surat city, lodged a complaint against an unidentified person under section 153A [promoting enimity between two groups] , 269 [negligent act likely to spread infectious disease] and 188 [punishment for disobeying any order duly promulgated by a public servant] of the Indian Penal code and section 54 [Punishment for false warning] of the Disaster Managment Act.

Mukesh Ostval, a 49-year-old resident of Surya Complex on City Light road, was arrested by the DCB Surat city on April 6, 2019. According to a Times of India report, Ostval is a native of Bhintagam of Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district. Crime Branch officials have informed Alt News that the man was later released on bail. A senior official with DCB also said that whatever is being said in the clip is found untrue.

Alt News spoke with Faysal Bakili, a journalist based in Surat, regarding the WhatsApp audio spreading animosity between two communities. Bakili said, “This WhatsApp audio is just an extension of a note that was circulated earlier in Gujarati. The rumour is widespread across Gujarat. A similar audio message was also circulating in Valsad in Gujarati. The WhatsApp message has spread nationally because it was in Hindi while this audio from Valsad was in Gujarati.”

Bakili is referring to a Gujarati note that warned Hindus about ‘wilful attempts’ being made by members of the Muslim community to spread coronavirus. The note said that in the light of a large religious gathering at Delhi’s Nizamuddin being identified as a virus hotspot, Hindus should boycott Muslim vendors selling fruits and vegetables. “They are coming to Hindu areas and doing this Jihadi act of spitting in these areas,” claims the note. Ahmedabad police commissioner had reportedly dubbed the message as false while alerting the city police and crime branch to keep sufficient bandobast to prevent any untoward incident. On April 4, The Indian Express reported that seven people from different parts of Gujarat have been arrested by the police for sharing the message which called for the social and economic boycott of the minority community.

In conclusion, the claims made in an audio clip recorded by an individual from Surat who said that members of the Muslim community have suddenly sprung in his locality to sell fruits and vegetable was found to be untrue. Police rubbished the claims, and no media reports backed the narrative put forward in the clip.

Note: The number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus in India exceeds 5,000 and more than 150 deaths have so far been reported. The government has imposed a complete restriction on movement apart from essential services to tackle the pandemic. Globally, more than 14 lakh confirmed cases and over 80,000 deaths have been reported. There is a sense of panic among citizens, causing them to fall for a variety of online misinformation – misleading images and videos rousing fear or medical misinformation promoting pseudoscience and invalid treatments. While your intentions may be pure, misinformation, spread especially during a pandemic, can take lives. We request our readers to practice caution and not forward unverified messages on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.

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