An incident where a large gathering comprising of labourers flouted a nationwide lockdown to protest outside a railway station in Mumbai, is being given communal overtones on social media. Several news channels including Republic TV, News Nation and editor-in-chief of India TV, Rajat Sharma highlighted that the crowd gathered near a mosque.
BOOM spoke to Mumbai police and local reporters present at the scene who said a mix of rumours drew migrant labourers to gather at the spot. The crowd then grew larger when locals from nearby Muslim areas near the station joined in.
On the evening of April 14, 2020 videos of a large crowd outside Mumbai's Bandra (West) railway station started flooding social media. The videos went viral as the incident occurred hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an extension of the 21-day lockdown that ended on April 14, 2020. The prime minister extended the lockdown to May 3, 2020 to halt the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in India.
Multiple images and videos from the scene showing the crowd gather close to a nearby masjid soon went viral with a large section of Twitter users adding a communal spin to the incident.
Although several mainstream news reports stated that the people gathered were labourers and did not mention any religious angle, tweets claiming local Muslims sabotaged efforts to contain COVID-19 in the state of Maharashtra and deliberately defied the lockdown, started surfacing.
Why is the appeal in the name of Allah? Migrant Labourers are from pan India and pan religious background.... Pls note yesterday #KavitaKrishnan yesterday tried to peddle a fake story of a hungry woman.... Today this concerted effort to sabotage lockdown. What is happening?— Ashoke Pandit (@ashokepandit) April 14, 2020
News Channels Paint A Communal Picture
Leading English and Hindi news channels like Republic, India TV, News Nation and ABP News also highlighted that labourers gathered outside a mosque and gave a communal tone to the incident by linking the mosque to the gathering.
Republic Bharat in its show titled, 'Mumbai ke lockdown ka dushman kaun?' hinted at a conspiracy asking "Ät whose directions did the crowd gather? and "How did a crowd gather in the Masjid?". The story can be watched here'.
ABP Hindi named the masjid and asked 'whether the masjid was responsible for the gathering of the crowd?
Rajat Sharma, editor in chief of India TV tweeted a communal post calling it worrying that so many people had gathered outside "the Jama Masjid in Bandra'' and asked why the migrants did not have bags if they wanted to go home.
बांद्रा में जामा मस्जिद के बाहर इतनी बड़ी संख्या में लोगों का इकट्ठा चिंता की बात है. इन्हें किसने बुलाया? अगर ये लोग घर वापस जाने के लिए ट्रेन पकड़ने के लिए आए थे तो उनके हाथों में सामान क्यों नहीं था?— Rajat Sharma (@RajatSharmaLive) April 14, 2020
The channel also reported on the same lines calling it a sazish and said, "Who asked 1500 people to gather outside Jama Masjid in Mumbai?"
The show can be watched here
Rumours Led To Labourers Gathering : Mumbai Police
BOOM spoke to Zonal DCP Abhishek Trimukhe who confirmed that those gathered were mainly migrant labourers who stay in nearby areas of Patel Nagar. "Two rumours had spread in the areas where the labourers stay and that led to people gathering in huge numbers in the area. Prima facie it appears that one rumour was about trains functioning again which would take them home and second about food being distributed in the area,"he said. He added that they are looking into who spread these rumours.
Explaining the sequence of events Trimukhe said, "At around 3-3.30, crowds started gathering outside the station after defying the lockdown to reach there. They were labourers who wanted to go home and had heard about some trains being run. So they reached the station in hordes and after our personnel stopped them from entering the station, they started protesting."
The Mumbai police spokesperson also released a video byte about the incident.
A local reporter from a leading national daily who was present at the scene confirmed the events to BOOM. "I reached there and saw the police and local community leaders trying to control the situation. Speaking to a few members of the crowd i gathered that they had been told that trains are functioning again and hence they had reached in a bid to leave for their hometowns," the reporter said. "They were also told they are receiving free food and since they didn't have any means for groceries and were low on money, they thought they could come and collect it."
BOOM confirmed both the rumours with a senior Mumbai police official who said that those gathered were migrant labourers and just wanted to go home. "After the lockdown was extended they were worried about sustaining daily needs. Most of them are zari/embroidery workers in local units and stay in tiny rooms in the unit itself,"he said. The official added that those gathered had been told by "mischevious elements" that trains had started functioning. "After they heard about the trains, they rushed to the station to find out but then insisted that we make arrangements for them to go home,"he said.
A local police officer who was at the station explained that the police personnel even arranged for supplies for everybody but the crowd was not convinced. "They told us that they had heard about food being distributed so we decided to arrange for it, in a bid to get them to leave by solving their problem. But many of those gathered refused to accept the food packets and instead asked us to somehow get them home. They were labourers and their families are back home so they wanted to leave since the lockdown will stay in place for another few weeks,"he said. The police also lathicharged those gathered when the situation got out of control.
Priyanka Navalkar, reporter with the Free Press Journal reported that policemen posted learnt that it was rumours which had led to people gathering. "One of my source who was present there spoke to the people and was told that labourers from nearby areas decided to gather at the station since they thought restriction on train travel had been lifted in today's lockdown,"she said.
NO COMMUNAL ANGLE TO THE INCIDENT
BOOM analysed images and videos from the scene in tweets that alleged a communal spin to the incident since the crowd had gathered close to a mosque. We found that the masjid seen in the video is the Sunni Jama Masjid and is less than a minute's walk from the the Bandra railway station.
We used Google maps and measured the distance from the station to the mosque and found that it is right beside the station. A photo of the mosque on Google maps shows the station and that the mosque is located next to it.
BOOM also looked at the video of tweeted by Vikas Pandey, who runs several pro-Modi pages where a man can be heard addressing the crowd with uniformed policemen standing in the background also reasoning with the crowd. In the video, the local can be heard saying, "What you are all doing, I get it. I understand there is trouble and hardship. But we are people of faith, this (hardship) is from Allah's side. Those who say this is not from Allah's will, then you don't have faith." At this point one can hear someone in the crowd say, "Allah ki taraf se nai, Modi ke taraf se hai". Then man with the microphone then continues to say, "If this is what Allah wants then what are we to do? We bear a little trouble. I know parents are there and children are there but this is happening in the whole world. We have had to close mosques, Church, Mecca. This year there will be no Haj, isn't that a big thing?"
We asked a local reporter who was at the spot who said the man speaking is a local who was helping police manage the situation.
We also read through various media reports including The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express on the incident and found no communal angle reported by any of them. BOOM also spoke to Mumbai police officials about the claims being made by Twitters posts about the crowd gathering outside a mosque and the incident being given a communal spin. A senior officer said, "the mosque has always been there. It has no connection to the crowd that gathered. We do not look at the religion of a crowd in such cases," he said.
DCP Pranaya Ashok, Mumbai Police spokesperson said, "I would urge people to desist from making any such comments as they would be liable for legal action."
Note: A previous version of the story incorrectly quoted a local addressing the crowd as saying 'hum Allah ke taraf se hai', instead of 'yeh Allah ke taraf se hai.' The error is regretted
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