Indian media exploded last week with a 'breaking news' story involving the son of controversial Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed and elusive Mumbai don Dawood Ibrahim, who news outlets said had become 'involved' in fomenting unrest in Kashmir.
According to different sections of Indian media, Hafiz Saeed's son had incited a crowd gathered in an unidentified location in Pakistan on Kashmir Day to take up arms against India, urging them to "be like Dawood" and exhorting them to violence against the Indian state.
As it turned out, most of the claims made in the initial story and the follow-up coverage on it did not hold up to closer scrutiny.
Who said what?
Prominent Indian news outlets — including Asia News International (ANI), Times of India, Zee News and DNA India — reported on March 2 and March 3 that a recently-surfaced video showed Talha Saeed addressing a freedom rally in Pakistan on Kashmir Day (Feb 5), and inciting the crowd to wage war against India using fugitive underworld don Dawood Ibrahim as an inspiration.
The Times of India reported: "Talha is seen inciting a crowd to wage war against India using Dawood Ibrahim's name."
Zee News wrote: "Pakistan-based underworld don Dawood Ibrahim may join jihadi forces against India, JeM [Jaish-e-Mohammad] chief Hafiz Saeed's son Talha has reportedly hinted during a recent speech."
Zee News went on to cite ANI quoting defence experts as saying: "Talha has dropped enough hint[s] that Dawood would be actively involved in planning and executing terror strikes in Kashmir and other parts of India."
DNA India claimed that Talha Saeed: "talked about a Dawood-linked jihad on India" and was "seen inciting a crowd to wage war against India using Dawood Ibrahim's name."
ANI also reported on the concerns raised by two "defence experts" — Flying Officer Shivali Deshpande and security analyst Brigadier S.K. Chatterjee — who urged Indian security officials "to view Hafiz Saeed's son's speech last month with alarm, as he talked about a Dawood-linked jihad on India."
Deshpande, quoted by ANI, said: "He hinted that Dawood and jihad could be joined together and terrorism can be conducted. Now this is a big alarm for Indian security forces that they are associating Dawood Ibrahim also with terrorist activities."
"We need to be very alert and vigilant now, especially because Dawood has also joined hands with JuD and jointly they will be conducting terrorist activities," she said.
The report went on to say that India's intelligence agencies are now probing a possible link between Ibrahim and JuD.
The 'evidence' picked up by Indian media
Videos uploaded by ToI and India Today with 'proof' of their claims show a man leading slogans at a rally, asking attendees if they want to become judges, policemen or doctors, to which the crowd's reply is a resounding no.
However, when the man asks them if they want to become like 'Burhan' and 'Dawood', the crowd responds in the affirmative.
Both Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim are internationally designated terrorists who stand accused of sponsoring various attacks in India and India-held Kashmir.
Saeed is under house arrest and his activities and the organisations run by him are currently under scrutiny from Pakistani authorities.
However, though it has been claimed that Ibrahim, who is wanted for multiple heinous crimes in India, is hiding in Pakistan, that accusation has never been substantiated.
In a reply submitted to the Indian parliament in May 2015, the Indian Home Ministry itself had admitted that the government had no clue about the whereabouts of Ibrahim.
Notwithstanding this, there are significant problems and factual inaccuracies in Indian media's reportage on this 'story', and it is disturbing to see India-held Kashmir's struggle for self-determination being twisted to suit state narratives.
Falsification 1: The video was shot on Feb 5, 2017
The original video of the freedom rally — from which Indian media 'excerpted' the inflammatory bits — was shared on video-streaming website YouTube five months ago, according to the person who uploaded it.
The uploader also said the video was shot on Sept 1, 2016 — not on Kashmir Day (Feb 5, 2017), as wrongly claimed by Indian media.
YouTube's own timestamp of the date the video was uploaded shows it to be in September 2016.
Falsification 2: The video was shot in Pakistan
An opening shot from the original video shows a banner reading 'Ittehad-i-Millat Conference (Okey, Kulgam)'.
The video's uploader confirmed to Dawn.com that he had filmed the video at a freedom rally in Kulgam, which is located deep in India-held Kashmir.
Falsification 3: Hafiz Saeed's son is leading the sloganeering
A brief moment from the beginning of the original video shows the man who later leads the rally in sloganeering against India.
From his appearance, it is difficult to draw similarities with Talha Saeed, who has a beard and a heavier frame.
Furthermore, there is a difference in speech patterns between the man raising slogans and what Talha Saeed himself sounds like.
Misrepresentation: The men are using Dawood Ibrahim as an inspiration
Given the context of this gathering, Indian media inferred that 'Burhan' most likely refers to slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani — lionised as a young, charismatic hero by Kashmiri freedom fighters — who was killed by Indian security forces in India-held Kashmir last July, triggering protests across the valley.
In the same vein, when the man leading the sloganeering also asks attendees if they want to 'become like Qasim', it would seem to be a reference to Lashkar-e-Taiba operations chief Abu Qasim, a militant commander killed by Indian forces in Kulgam(where the rally is being held) in 2015.
Assuming that those gathered at the 'freedom rally' are being exhorted to emulate Kashmiri separatist icons, it is possible ─ or rather, more in line with the context of the sloganeering ─ that the Dawood mentioned here is not Dawood Ibrahim, but slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Dawood Sheikh, a prominent militant who was killed by Indian forces in an encounter in Kulgam (again, where the rally is being held) in March 2016 — merely six months before this gathering took place.
After initially carrying the story, IndiaToday and TimesNow have since removed it from their websites.