On April 3, a video showing a Muslim man licking his thumb while managing fruits on his cart went viral online. It was posted on YouTube and Twitter, many claiming that the man was spreading the novel coronavirus.
The video carried a TikTok sticker and the user name “deepaknamdev19”. Newslaundry could not find the video on this TikTok profile but regardless, it was posted multiple times on YouTube and Twitter.
The video is from Raisen district in Madhya Pradesh. It was shot on the evening of February 16, 2020. We know this because after the video went viral, the Raisen police registered an FIR against Sheru Khan, the fruit vendor.
TV9 Bharatvarsh picked up the video from the internet and on it, calling the fruit seller a “corona criminal” amid a “corona crisis,” implying that he was spreading the virus during the pandemic.
“There are plenty of fruits on this seller’s cart in the middle of the corona crisis,” the anchor stated in the segment.
The channel asked its viewers what would happen to them if they ate that fruit.
Towards the end of the segment, the channel ran a small clip by Monica Shukla, superintendent of police, Raisen, who said that the video was “old” and a case had been registered against the person in the video.
In another by anchor Gaurav Agrawal, the fruit seller was called a “shaitan”, or a demon. “What is the mentality of these people?” Agarwal asked.
He too implied that the video was shot during the lockdown: “When the world is looking for solutions to the coronavirus lockdown, people are doing things that are shocking.”
TV9 Bharatvarsh was the only channel to broadcast multiple segments of this social media rage. They did this without providing any substantial facts on the matter, such as: Who was the person in the video? When was it shot and by whom? Was it before the lockdown or after it? As a media organisation, it had the opportunity to set out these facts since this video was circulating online with inflammatory allegations.
TV9 Bharatvarsh’s programming comes during the Nizamuddin cluster case, where a religious congregation at Delhi’s Markaz mosque in mid-March is being held responsible for hundreds of coronavirus cases around the country. Instead of questioning the police and the government for their lapses in preventing the gathering, many news channels have taken to .
Many YouTube videos also alleged that the man was spreading coronavirus (see , , , , ). Elsewhere on the internet, the video has been accompanied by derogatory references to Muslims. On Twitter, the video went viral and many users called for a boycott of Muslim shops and traders.
When the video went viral, the Raisen police registered an FIR against Sheru Khan, the fruit vendor.
The FIR reveals that the video was shot by one Bodhraj in the Tipatta market in Raisen at around 5 pm on February 16. Based on the complaint, the Raisen police station booked Sheru Khan for “negligently spreading infection of disease dangerous to life” (IPC Section 269) and “malignantly spreading infection of disease dangerous to life” (IPC Section 270).
The Quint that Monica Shukla, Raisen SP, confirmed February 16, 2020 as the date when the video was shot. She also told the portal that since the video went viral on April 3, the police “got in touch with the person who had uploaded it and then finally caught hold of the person in the viral video”.
She added: “The investigation is underway and we are yet to find out why he was doing that. Meanwhile, an FIR has been registered and Sheru has been arrested.”
A Dainik Bhaskar interviewed Fiza, Sheru Khan’s daughter. Fiza told the paper that after registering a case against Khan, “the police beat him up and sent him home”. She also claimed that her father’s mental condition is not good and that the family is getting multiple calls after the video went viral online.
“Why did we suddenly become criminals? Why didn't anyone ask us and see my father’s condition? We do not know what will happen in such an environment?” she said.
Fiza claimed that her father was licking his thumb because he does it when he is under stress. “We had a very good milk business about 10 years ago. Many people worked for us. My father used to count notes several times a day. He often does such activities in the house as well,” she told Bhaskar.
TV9 Bharatvarsh’s response
Newslaundry got in touch with Rahul Choudhry, the deputy managing editor of TV9 Bharatvarsh, to talk about the channel’s segment. Choudhry claimed the channel ran the segment to “stop misinformation” through a viral video that was circulating with multiple claims. He emphasised that, to this end, the channel carried SP Shukla’s comment at the end of the segment, where she says that the video is “old”.
Shukla said that an investigation against Khan has started, so why did TV9 Bharatvarsh call Khan a “corona criminal”? “We’re not calling him a ‘corona criminal’. We can’t call anyone that. That’s how the video is circulating, people are calling him a ‘corona criminal’,” Choudhry said.
When asked why the channel did not specify that the video was shot on February 16, before the lockdown, Choudhry said: “The segment ran it as a viral video. We didn’t say this happened today.” This is not true, as we have mentioned above.
Choudhry refuted the allegation that the broadcast showed Muslims in a bad light. “We had no intention to do that,” he said.