There is a rumour flying around on social media—mainly in the Right-wing ecosystem—that one of the women that attempted to visit Sabarimala temple last week, Rehana Fathima, was carrying a sanitary napkin in her Irumudikkettu (a prayer kit offered to the deity at Sabarimala). Although Fathima has categorically denied the allegation, the fake news attributed to Janam TV—the mouthpiece of the Kerala Bharatiya Janata Party—has been circulating the rumour mills. With Right-wing websites amplifying the canard, even Union cabinet minister Smriti Irani seems to have fallen for it.
Speaking at an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai, Smriti Irani responded to a question on Sabarimala with this conclusion: “Would you take sanitary napkins seeped in menstrual blood and walk into a friend’s home? You would not. Would you think it is respectful to do the same thing and walk into the house of God? So that is the difference. I have the right to pray, I do not have the right to desecrate.”
Now, Irani seems to have relied on rumours to make the odious comparison. It is one thing for the BJP-affiliated propaganda factory to amplify motivated content but for a Union Minister to give it credibility is an entirely different proposition.
When The Guardian’s Michael Safi interpreted her quote on Twitter as the minister’s response on menstruating women’s entry in Sabarimala, Irani took objection and cried “fake news”—presumably because her statement was not a reflection of her view of menstruating women entering Sabarimala. Instead, Irani seems to have relied on fake news to make her point, going so far as to use the word desecration.
Newslaundry got in touch with Rehana Fathima to get to the bottom of it. She said, “I bought the puja items on October 18 from a shop in Kochi for ₹2,000. I couldn’t offer it to Ayyappa (as the normal practice goes) despite undertaking the five-kilometre trek. Upon my return, these rumours had already reached the police. The Pampa Circle Inspector verified the contents of the irumudikkettu in the presence of the SP and even photographed it.” She also charged Janam TV with initiating and spreading the rumour.
Bill listing the puja times purchased by Rehana Fathima
The Janam TV report is based merely on a claim that Rehana Fathima apparently told her friends that she was carrying sanitary pads in her irumudikkettu. There is nothing to back up this claim at all.
To verify these claims, Newslaundry got in touch with IG Sreejith and the Pampa Station House Officer. SHO Vijayan confirmed photographing and personally verifying the contents of Rehana’s irumudikkettu—to conclusively debunk the propaganda and said it did not contain sanitary pads.
Now, if anyone tuned in to Janam TV last week, they presented an alternate reality and a totally different version of the events at Sabarimala. Janam TV had dubbed media houses (the entire spectrum of news channels) in Kerala as “Leftist” and charged journalists with bias. But such revelations indicate how Janam TV themselves might have relied on fake news to bolster their propaganda. Speaking to Newslaundry, representatives of Janam TV bizarrely claimed that their story was based on an “unnamed source” and they would continue to stand by the story—despite police officials debunking it. They didn’t offer any rationale.
With Smriti Irani herself giving credence to the propaganda, the fake news gets a shot in the arm. It is a bit strange that the minister would be misled by something so incredulous but such is the nature of the Right-wing echo chambers on social media. For someone who is known to weigh her words, Irani’s use of the word “desecration” too sounded like a bit of an exaggeration.