A viral audio clip in which a man claims that Muslim vegetable and fruit vendors in Surat are spreading the novel Coronavirus, is false. BOOM spoke to an officer from Surat City Police's Crime Branch who rubbished the claims made in the clip and said that the person who had recorded the audio has been arrested for spreading misinformation.
In the 6.42 minutes viral audio clip, the speaker introduces himself as a resident of City Light area, Surat and appeals to people to not buy vegetables from Muslim vendors. He further gives the message a communal spin and claims that the vendors are selling vegetables at a lower price because their 'ulterior motives lie in spreading the virus'.
BOOM received the audio on its WhatsApp helpline number (7700906111) for verification.
In the audio, the speaker claims that he saw hawkers from the Muslim community for the first time in his area selling vegetables and fruits. "Today morning, when I went out for a walk, I saw a unique development. Each crossing and bylane was filled with at least 15 to 16 three-wheeler tempos where Muslim boys were selling fruits and vegetables." The speaker further raises concern saying, "I have never seen them before. I have been staying here for the past seven to eight years."
He then questions whether this has anything to do with the COVID-19 infected people who had attended the Tablighi Jamaat religious congregation in Delhi in March. The speaker further talks about the absurdly low rates of the vegetables sold by the Muslim vendors.
He also refers to already debunked videos of fruit sellers licking fingers and touching the fruits which were earlier viral with communal claims in the backdrop of COVID-19 outbreak.
The viral audio message can be heard below.
We performed a google search with the keywords 'Whatsapp audio' 'Surat' , 'City Light' and found a report dated April 7, 2020, by The Times Of India stating that the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB), Surat City Police, had arrested Mukesh Ostval (49), resident of Surya Complex on City Light Road for creating and circulating an audio on WhatsApp which made the same claims as in the viral clip above.
BOOM then contacted the Detection of Crime Branch (DCB), Surat City Police, who confirmed that it was the same viral audio clip for which Ostval had been arrested.
"We had arrested the man responsible for creating this audio clip and circulating it on social media. He was booked under IPC 153 (A), (for provocation with intent to cause riot and for promoting enmity between groups on the basis of race, religion, and place of birth) and IPC 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), and was later on granted bail by the court," said an officer from Surat City Police. The officer also shared the FIR details with BOOM. According to the officer, Ostval was arrested on April 6.
The audio is the latest in a series of misinformation targeting the Muslim community in India after several people who took part in a religious congregation of the Tabligh-e-Jamaat in Delhi last month, tested positive for the coronavirus.
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