Staged online videos feed Islamophobia in India

Published June 23, 2023
A man records an act being staged by two others in India. — AFP
A man records an act being staged by two others in India. — AFP

SITAPUR: The acting is dire and the scenarios fake, but staged videos are peddling disinformation and fanning sectarian tensions in India, which has seen rising Hindu radicalisation under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

One such five-minute film purported to show a Muslim man mixing toilet cleaning liquid into a street snack, before being “confronted” by passersby.

The video got more than five million views on Facebook.

Another, seen more than 3.5m times on YouTube, depicts a fruit seller — a trade taken up by many Muslims — cheating customers out of pomegranates before being accosted and assaulted.

“Before buying anything from Muslim Jihadis, watch this video of a Muslim fruit seller,” the accompanying caption says.

(AFP debunked the toilet cleaning liquid video as “false information” on Facebook, marking posts sharing the video as such).

Asked about the impact their work may have, the video-makers say the clips are just meant as “entertainment” — and to make money.

The toilet cleaning liquid video was made by Narendra Verma, who has a Facebook page with 55,000 followers and runs a successful YouTube channel.

The smartly dressed 28-year-old said his videos can make his six-member team 250,000 rupees a month from YouTube and Facebook, depen­ding on how many views they get.

“We make these videos (to make) people aware so that they can avoid such incidents happening for real in society,” he added.

Raju Bharti runs a YouTube channel with 2.89m subscribers and has uploaded hundreds of videos, including the one of the “Muslim fruit-seller”.

He denies accusations of inciting hatred.

“We make videos about digital fraud, child kidnapping and how shopkeepers or hawkers cheat common people,” he said.

“Our aim is not to hurt the sentiments of any religion or community, we just want to make people aware.”

‘Hindu brothers’

Experts say videos like these are shared widely to reinforce negative stereotypes and conspiracy theories about the roughly 210m Muslims in India.

One with 1.2m views features a man disguised in a Burqa being pursued with a “stolen” child under his arm.

“Burqa hides terrorist activities. Burqa promotes crime. Burqa should be banned in India,” the caption reads.

Others show Hindu women who have supposedly been duped into marrying a Muslim, a common trope with the Hindu far-right.

These videos are often included in social media campaigns to economically boycott or attack Muslims, or when communal tensions flare.

“Wake up… Hindu brothers and sisters, wake up now or never, the economic boycott is the only option for these Jihadis,” one user wrote in response to the toilet cleaning liquid clip.

Bias-confirming videos

Asked about the videos mentioned in this story, Facebook parent company Meta said it was investigating them.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2023

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