The chronology of disinformation about Bihari workers being attacked in Tamil Nadu

TNM went through scores of social media accounts and found out that the cycle of disinformation started on February 20 and flared up just ahead of Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav’s visit to Chennai.
Migrant workers in Tamil Nadu
Migrant workers in Tamil Nadu
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The state governments of Tamil Nadu and Bihar have been busy this past week countering disinformation that Bihari migrants have been fatally attacked in Tamil Nadu. Cases have been filed against a BJP spokesperson, Hindi newspapers Dainik Bhaskar, right wing propaganda website OpIndia, YouTubers and Twitter users for spreading unrelated videos of violence and wrongly claiming that migrant workers were under attack in Tamil Nadu. TNM went through scores of social media accounts and found out that the cycle of disinformation started on February 20 and flared up just ahead of Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav’s visit to Chennai for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin’s birthday celebrations on March 1, 2023.

On February 20, a Twitter user named Akhilesh Kumar tweeted to BJP leader Annamalai claiming that a Hindi speaking person had been brutally murdered in Tiruppur. This user attached a screenshot of a Facebook post in Hindi which said that two brothers from Bihar were assaulted by anti-Hindi agitators, and one of them died. The Facebook post was by a user named Tejasvi Arjun Yadav, whose profile is now locked. Akhilesh Kumar’s Twitter account was created only in February 2023 and according to Twitter, the location of the user was Tiruppur.

The screenshot shared by Akhilesh has pictures of two young men, one lying in a pool of blood and another injured. These screenshots were taken from the video of a gang war that took place in Coimbatore on February 12, 2023, in which 24-year-old Gokul was hacked to death and his friend Manoj sustained head injuries. Both Gokul and Manoj are natives of Tamil Nadu.

On February 24, 2023 Akhilesh Kumar posted another tweet, this time tagging Pappu Yadav, who is the National President of Jan Adhikar Party in Bihar. The tweet in Hindi claimed that there have been serious incidents of brutal attacks on Biharis in Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu. “Many incidents have been carried out by local residents. There is no fear of administration nor law and order,” the post said in Hindi.

Akhilesh Kumar tweet to BJP leader Annamalai on February 20 from Tiruppur

In the same tweet, Akhilesh Kumar had posted a video of an incident that took place in front of Bhadwasia Hospital in Jodhpur on February 18, 2023, where Jagraj, a lawyer by profession, was attacked by two accused named Anil and Mukesh. According to Twitter, the location of this tweet too is from Tiruppur.

Akhilesh Kumar tweet tagging Pappu Yadav on February 24 from Tiruppur 

The Twitter timeline of ex-MP and National President of Jan Adhikar Party Pappu Yadav shows that he was one of the first politicians to pick up this issue on February 28, 2023. In a tweet, Pappu Yadav claimed that north Indian 'Bihari Hindi' speaking people are being systematically attacked and boycotted in Tamil Nadu. Tagging the Chief Ministers of both states, Pappu Yadav urged the Bihar CM to intervene. “This violence cannot be tolerated. Honourable CM Nitish Kumar should intervene and ensure the safety of Bihari samaj,” he tweeted.

Jan Adhikar party leader Pappu Yadav tweet on Bihari workers 

The same day, February 28, a Twitter handle named Aman Bhim Army 030 posted several unrelated videos and pictures claiming an attack on Bihari migrant workers in Tamil Nadu. After investigations the Bihar police has now arrested Aman Kumar in connection with spreading unrelated videos and causing panic. He has also been booked under the Information Technology Act.

On February 28, Aman Kumar's tweeted a series of unrelated videos and pictures 

While in the last week of February, these messages gained momentum on social media and on messaging platforms like WhatsApp, soon it found its way to mainstream media too. The story alleging brutal attacks on Bihari migrant workers in Tamil Nadu first appeared in ‘Hindustan’ newspaper’s print edition in Delhi on March 2, 2023. The print and online editions of ‘Hindustan’ newspaper, which has a large circulation in north India, prominently published a story titled, “Murderous attack on Hindi speaking workers in Tamil Nadu."

Hindustan Newspaper's lead story claiming attacks on Bihari workers in Tamil Nadu on March 02 

The screenshots of this story went viral on social media and WhatsApp groups, forcing the mainstream media in Bihar to follow it. Dainik Bhaskar, another popular newspaper in north India, did a follow up story by putting out a phone conversation with a daily wage worker in Tamil Nadu. This person named Arman claimed that 15 people had been killed and that they were under constant attack for speaking in Hindi. The online version of the alarming Dainik Bhaskar article went viral, triggering panic among the residents of Bihar and workers from north Indian states living in Tamil Nadu.

Speaking to TNM, a journalist associated with Dainik Bhaskar who did not want to be quoted said the story was first published in the Bihar online edition. However, when TNM contacted the Bihar edition of Dainik Bhaskar, a journalist said, “The story first appeared in Hindi newspaper ‘Hindustan’ in Delhi, and Dainik Bhaskar and other media outlets in Bihar merely followed it up. There is a misunderstanding that Dainik Bhaskar published this report first, it is wrong. Hindustan newspaper came up with a lead story and all papers followed it up the next day,” he said.

Dainik Bhaskar story published on March 02

The Tiruppur police have registered an FIR against the Editor of Dainik Bhaskar under 153(A) for promoting enmity between different groups and 505(i)(b) for circulating content with an intent to create alarm and fear among the public. However, no complaint or FIR has been registered against Hindustan newspaper that first published this report in its Delhi edition. Meanwhile, by the first week of March, BJP handles, both directly associated with the party and indirectly too started to post such videos. BJP handles of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh also posted incendiary material.

Citing newspaper reports, the issue was picked up by political parties in Bihar including the BJP to corner Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav on the floor of the house. Speaking to TNM, RJD spokesperson Mrityunjay Tiwari blamed the BJP for launching a disinformation campaign. “Trying to create divisions among people from different states is not a good thing. The BJP wants to politicise the issue and this is not good,” he added.

Speaking to TNM, an officer said they first received information on February 28, 2023, from a builder in Chennai who alerted the police about unrelated videos claiming an attack on migrant workers from Bihar shared on WhatsApp and there was panic among them. “The issue intensified on March 1, when a popular media house reported a wrong story on March 2 claiming attacks. It was widely shared on WhatsApp groups and social media. What started as a stray campaign later became organised when political parties started picking up this issue,” he added.

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