At least 288 people were killed and 800 injured in a horrific train accident in Odisha’s Balasore district on Friday, June 2. According to information available at the time of the filing of this report, 10 to 12 coaches of the Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express got derailed and fell over on another track. The Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, plying on that line, subsequently collided with the derailed train, derailing three to four of its own coaches. A goods train was also involved in the crash.
Even as images and videos of the mishap started circulating, certain social media users tried to give the accident a communal twist by claiming that a mosque was located near the spot of the accident.
On Sunday, Memeghnad (@meghnad) tweeted a citizen’s agony: Since yesterday, there have been horrendous tweets and opinions being put out by BJP supporters about the #TrainTragedy.
These kind of incidents prove yet again how deranged that whole ecosystem really is.
Here's a quick summary of the kind of shit that is being put out from…
Since yesterday, there have been horrendous tweets and opinions being put out by BJP supporters about the #TrainTragedy. These kind of incidents prove yet again how deranged that whole ecosystem really is.
Here's a quick summary of the kind of things that is being put out:
(TRIGGER WARNING: This list will piss you off)
- Why should the Railway Minister resign? What's the point? Instead he should work harder!
- Kavach safety system? Stop talking about that. It was not deployed on this track ok so it's not anyone's fault. Check your facts.
- Train accidents happen in other countries too ok. These kind of things keep happening around the world. No need to make a big deal of it.
- The opposition is responsible. Why is Rahul always outside India when some big accident happens huh huh huh?
- Why are all these other political leaders visiting the accident site huh? Something is fishy, something is afoot! But Ayega toh M....
- Look! There is a masjid beside the railway site. You know what THAT means right? TERRORISM.
(It was not a masjid, it was an ISKON temple)
- This is what happens when you let the reserved category inferior type people do railway job. Now suffer!
- Overpopulation. That's the problem. It's just too many people ok. And some of these people die when they crowd around.
- PM Modi rushed to the scene in such heat omg what great leader doing great things WE NEED HIM SO BADLY RIGHT NOW IN THIS DIFFICULT TIME!
- LEAVE MY MODIJI ALONE ITS NOT HIS FAULT NONE OF IT IS HIS FAULT PLS LEAVE HIM ALONE!!!!
Within hours after the deadly train crash in Odisha’s Balasore that killed close to 290 people, several of them migrant labour, and wounded 1,000 others on Friday, June 2 evening, several social media accounts insinuated that Muslims were responsible for the accident. A preliminary inquiry by the Indian Railways revealed that “a signalling error was responsible for India’s deadliest train accident in two decades, stated the Indian Express citing a “multi-disciplinary joint-inspection note by supervisors”. Other news reports have highlighted concerns over maintenance and declining funds, as well as flaws in the signalling system.
These were not the serious concerns for trolls and accounts known for spreading majoritarian Hindutva. These accounts, also supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party swung into swift action to protect both the union government as also the Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw from any responsibility (moral or otherwise) amidst growing voices for the minister to resign.
On the afternoon of June 3, Saturday, a Twitter account with the handle @randomsena posted an image of the crash site with an arrow pointing to a white structure with domes close to the tracks and captioned it “just saying…yesterday was Friday”. This seemed to suggest that the structure was a mosque and that Muslims were somehow responsible for the tragedy.
Fact-checkers from Boom and AltNews immediately pointed out that the shrine is, in fact, a temple run by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or Iskcon. Boom said its team checked images as well as footage.
The story does not stop here. Shockingly, the Twitter account of “Prof.N John Camm”, who claims to be a senior Germany-based cardiologist, tweeted “rail jihad”. Several more right-wing Twitter accounts have joined the chorus alleging “sabotage” and a “conspiracy”.
Another Twitter user going by the name “BhikuMhatre” with the handle @MumbaichaDon, posted images of what he claimed was the “primary investigation report” and alleged that the tragedy “looked like a case of sabotage”. The Twitter user, whose followers include BJP leaders and a Mumbai BJP legislator, also demanded an investigation by the National Investigation Agency. This claim was retweeted by others, with one user alleging more “such incidents” ahead of the 2024 elections. Another alleged the hand of American billionaire George Soros and the Congress to create publicity for Congress Rahul Gandhi who is currently visiting the United States.
Hindu supremacist and journalist Suresh Chavhanke and his Sudarshan News (owing allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-RSS), known for incendiary television news programmes that target Muslims, further amplified these claims of sabotage, including tweeting out the hashtag “train accident or attack” in Hindi.
Twitter user PallaviCT, the co-convener of the Mumbai BJP’s social media cell, also drew links to unrelated previous incidents to claim there was sinister intent behind the Odisha train accident ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The Twitter user’s bio says “blessed to be followed” by the prime minister.
On Sunday, the Odisha Police said that it was “highly unfortunate” that social media handles were “mischievously” communalising the train accident. The police warned of legal action against those trying to “create communal disharmony by spreading rumours”.
‘Reservations’ to blame
The most ludicrous of all was another section of Twitter users, meanwhile, has blamed the reservation policy in government jobs for Indians from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the train crash.
Fact check: ISKCON Temple not Mosque
Undeterred by fact however, the Twitter account named “The Random Indian”, however, doubled down on the claim. “Balasore is a hub of rohingya Muslims,” it said, defending itself by saying that there was “no mention of Muslims” in its post. In a revealing statement of the impact of the algorithms of hate, by the afternoon of June 4, Sunday, the tweet had garnered four million views and nearly 4,500 retweets. The account also posted a series of old news reports involving Muslim suspects in cases of previous, unrelated train incidents with comments such as “something is fishy” to claim a bigger “conspiracy” at work.
This is how it began. User The Random Indian (@randomsena) tweeted an image of a drone view of the spot with an arrow pointing at a white building, the apparent mosque, and wrote, ‘Just Saying Yesterday Was Friday’. By saying this, the user tried to claim that Muslims were responsible for the tragedy. This particular tweet was part of a thread wherein he tried to establish that the train accident was a planned attack by Muslims. (Archive)
Other users, including @RajputRanjanaa, @RealVirendraBJP, @abbajabbadabba4, verified user @VIRALKI44722069 and parody account @mdallahwala, tweeted the same image wherein the white building was pointed at and claimed that Muslims were responsible for the accident. (Archives- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
This claim is also viral on Facebook.
Altnews and Boomlive did swift fact checks
Upon a closer examination of the spot from different angles, we found that the white structure seen in the viral image resembles a temple and not a mosque. The following image was used in a Reuters report titled, “Deadly Indian rail crash shifts focus from new trains to safety“. We have circled the structure on the image:
They reached out to journalist Tamal Saha who is currently at the spot of the accident in Bahanaga. He confirmed to Alt News that the structure near the accident was indeed a temple. Upon probing further, we found that the temple was the Bahanaga ISKCON temple. A YouTube video of the temple, uploaded five months ago shows that the structure is white in colour and was under construction (although functional) at that time as well. On our request, Saha visited the temple and sent us an image of the board outside the temple saying ISKCON Bahanaga.
Altnews also received a video capturing the entrance to the temple. Below is the comparison among a screen grab of the aforementioned video, by Altnews the portion of the viral image showing the alleged mosque and the image from the Reuters report. As is evident, all three show the same structure.
Below is another video capturing the road outside the temple
Altnews and Boom also reached out to the authorities of the ISKCON temple in Bahanaga who confirmed to us that the train accident happened on the tracks near the temple. They also confirmed that the structure seen next to the spot of the accident is the ISKCON temple.
All this hate when after over 12 hours after the mishap, the Railways is looking at the possibility of a signalling error as its prima facie cause, sources told The Indian Express. According to the report, a multi-disciplinary joint-inspection note by supervisors concluded that a green signal was given to the Coromandel Express to pass through the designated main line, and then the signal was taken off. But the train entered the loop line, rammed into a stationary goods train and derailed. Meanwhile, on the down line, the superfast express train from Yashwantpur had arrived and its two coaches derailed.
Thanks to the fact checking by Boom and Altnews it became clear that in the drone-view image of the train accident site in Balasore shared on social media, the white structure partly visible is not a mosque, but an ISKCON temple in Bahnaga. It is baseless and absurd to claim that the proximity of the structure had anything to do with the accident. At the time of the filing of this report, an inquiry is still on to ascertain the exact cause of the mishap.
Megalomania and the Rail accident
One twitter user Bhavika Kapoor had a refreshing take however.
BhavikaKapoor5 (@Bhavika Kapoor ) Tweeted: I came across several photographs of #Odisha train accident.
In those images, I noticed the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and other members of the BJP intently observing the Odisha tragedy on a large television screen within a spacious, air-conditioned room that too in… https://twitter.com/bhavikakapoor5/status/1665171625594195968?s=51&t=zato-O45CzEtDK-zGtGhcw
I came across several photographs of #Odisha train accident.
In those images, I noticed the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and other members of the BJP intently observing the Odisha tragedy on a large television screen within a spacious, air-conditioned room that too in expensive designer clothes!
Question: What role did the cameramen and videographers play in that room to capture the pictures from different angles? Bizzare !
Aapda mein avsar formula? Turning human tragedy into a public relations endeavour to enhance their image?
Has India also become North Korea, which is glorifying the Prime Minister even after hundreds of deaths?