Over a month after a minor drowned in Gopalganj, the Hindu nationalist website spread the lie that he was offered as a human sacrifice by Muslims to make their mosque powerful.
On March 28, the body of a minor boy named Rohit Jaiswal was found floating in the river at Bela Dih village in Bihar’s Gopalganj. The police began a murder investigation, and arrested five people. Then, over a month later, the tragic incident was suddenly communalised.
The communal fire was lit by a few Facebook and Twitter users but the flames were massively fanned by the Hindu nationalist website OpIndia.
For this, the Gopalganj police have registered an FIR against OpIndia as well as a local website Khabar Tak.
OpIndia is infamous for peddling bigotry. True to form, it whipped up communal hatred over Rohit Jaiswal’s death.
Anupam Kumar Singh wrote five stories about the incident for OpIndia between May 9 and 13. One was titled, “Hindu family leaves Gopalganj district in Bihar due to fear after their minor son was killed”. This is the story that compelled the police to file the FIR.
Published on May 9, the report makes some sensational claims referencing the victim’s father Rajesh Jaiswal. Let’s look at the key claims made by OpIndia and see if they stand scrutiny.
OpIndia quotes Rajesh as alleging that his son was taken to a mosque, killed as a “human sacrifice”, and dumped in the river.
A new mosque is being built in Bela Dih. The village’s Muslims were rumoured to have been talking about sacrificing a Hindu person in the mosque to make it “powerful and influential”.
The boys who came to fetch Rohit were all Muslim. They took him to the mosque where their relatives killed him.
Now, let’s check these claims.
Rajesh filed an FIR on March 29 claiming that his son was home with his mother, Vandana Jaiswal, the previous day when, at around 3 pm, Salman, Zubair, Rahul and Mushtaq came and invited him to play cricket. When Rohit didn’t return by that evening, the family went out in search, but couldn’t go far from the village because of the lockdown.
The next morning, they were informed that a boy’s body had been found in the river. “We suspected Zubair. We questioned him and he admitted that the four of them, along with Nizam Ansari and Wasir Ansari, had killed Rohit and thrown his body in the river,” the FIR quotes Rajesh as saying. “I am certain my son was murdered by Salman, Zubair, Rahul, Mushtaq Ansari, Wasir Ansari, and Nizam Ansari.”
Although Rajesh didn’t mention “human sacrifice” in the FIR, he did tell OpIndia that his son was murdered in the mosque. OpIndia has an audio clip of the interview which they shared with Newslaundry.
Why did OpIndia run Rajesh’s unsubstantiated allegation as a news report, especially when it was made over a month after the incident? Why didn’t they go through the FIR? Why didn’t they verify the father’s claims from police officials? Instead of explaining what was claimed in the FIR, OpIndia simply quoted the SP saying a case had been registered and the investigation was ongoing.
Ajit Bharti, the editor of OpIndia Hindi, defended the report claiming he didn’t have access to the FIR until the story was published. But it had been registered nearly six weeks earlier. Moreover, Rajesh claimed to have given OpIndia a copy of the FIR.
One reliable way to ascertain how Rohit died is to check the postmortem report. Did OpIndia read the report? Of course not. The postmortem report clearly states Rohit’s cause of death as “asphyxia due to drowning”. Simply, the boy could not breathe underwater and drowned.
As Dr Ashok Kumar Akela, who did the autopsy, told the Lallantop, “We found water in the victim's lungs and stomach. There was unclean water in the trachea too but there was no trauma or traces of blood present. The victim bled from his nose and eyes. When someone struggles while drowning, it increases the pressure on the eyes and the nose, which creates a possibility of bleeding from there. The victim had no external injury or trauma on the neck to signify choking. The possibility of the body being dumped in the water after committing murder elsewhere is minuscule.”
Note that OpIndia published its report about six weeks after the incident, so there’s no question of getting facts wrong in the rush to break the story.
While speaking with OpIndia, Rajesh indeed alleged that his son was sacrificed in a mosque. Speaking with Newslaundry, however, he retracted the claim.
“I did say that but I was extremely upset at that time,” he said. “Hundreds of people were calling me and in sheer frustration, I said that. Nothing like that happened. How can I claim he was killed in the mosque when I didn't see it? But I still stand by my claim that he was murdered.”
Newslaundry found a video recorded in the victim's village on May 13. It shows Vandana responding to a question about his son having been sacrificed in the mosque, “We can’t say that our son was sacrificed, but I can tell you that Muslims used to sprinkle water on my son. We can’t claim a sacrifice because we haven’t seen it with our own eyes. We won’t lie. You can ask anyone in the village, they called my son away and after killing him, threw away his body. Those boys have confessed to killing him and dumping his body in the river.”
The OpIndia story claims that the boys who called away Rohit were all Muslim. This is false. The FIR names five Muslim boys and one Hindu. In fact, it was the Hindu boy who called away Rohit. OpIndia, of course, omitted this nugget of information.
In fact, even in the audio clip OpIndia gave us, Rajesh can be heard telling them that the boys who called away Rohit that day were not all Muslim.
Why then did OpIndia claim that the boys were all Muslim? Bharti replied that Rajesh told them the first boy who called out to his son was Rahul. “He is a minor so we didn't mention him in the report,” he added. “If we wanted to hide this fact we could have edited the video but we didn’t do it.”
If that was Bharti’s concern, why wasn’t it extended to the Muslim boys? After all, they are also all minors. Could it be that seeking to hold the minority community as a whole responsible for the death serves the agenda of OpIndia?
After we questioned OpIndia about this story, they tried to slyly cover their tracks by editing out the word “all” from a sentence asserting that the boys who came to get Rohit were all Muslim.
How did Rohit die?
To understand the circumstances surrounding Rohit’s death, Newslaundry spoke to several villagers, including relatives of the victim and the accused. This is what we found: on March 28, one Hindu and three Muslim boys went to Rohit’s home and asked him to play cricket with them. After they were done playing, the children went for a swim in the river. Rohit started to drown. The other children got scared and ran away. When the body was discovered the next day, everybody found out what had happened. The police soon arrested the four boys.
We also spoke to a local journalist, Vipin Kumar Rai, about the incident. He said: “This was never a Hindu-Muslim matter. The kids have said from the beginning that after playing cricket they went for a dip in the river. One boy drowned. Out of fear, the other boys didn’t tell anyone. The police later arrested them. The court, looking at the Corona situation, released them on bail. When things get better, the law will take its course. It’s being turned into a Hindu-Muslim issue for no apparent reason.”
This isn’t the first time OpIndia has used a tragedy to peddle bigotry. They thrive on it.
Asked about the FIR registered against OpIndia, Vijay Kumar Verma, deputy inspector general, Saran, said, “Report related to this incident was published in OpIndia and Kabar Tak. There was a clear message that somehow the matter was related to a mosque, or its construction, or that the boy was taken there. All these claims are lies. I have verified this myself. Messaging like this will create communal tensions in the area and for this reason, Khabar Tak and OpIndia have been charged and action is being taken against them.”
Though it is clear now that there was no communal angle to the tragedy, lies about the “mosque”, “human sacrifice” and Muslims generally continue to be spread on social media, with the OpIndia story being presented as evidence. But then, that has long appeared to be the purpose of the Hindu nationalist website’s “reporting”.
Update: On May 17, concerned about the communal tension created by the malicious reporting of OpIndia and other outlets, the Bihar police chief went live on Facebook. After personally investigating the crime scene and speaking with the victim’s family and other villagers, Gupteshwar Pandey again clarified that there was no communal motive behind Rohit’s death. He also pointed out that the village didn’t even have a mosque. Watch the video.
The names of the minors have been changed to protect their identities as required by the law.
A version of this report was published on Newslaundry Hindi on May 15.
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