12 FIRs filed over rumours of attacks on migrants: Police

Mar 08, 2023 02:19 AM IST

It will take some time to connect the dots and establish why the fake news against Tamil Nadu attacking Hindi-speaking migrant workers, especially from Bihar, was being spread, said another official

Chennai: As many as 12 FIRs have been filed against individuals and institutions, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, by Tamil Nadu police related to the “targeted misinformation” that there was violence against migrant labourers in the southern state, a senior state government official said.

Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan after interacting with Bihari workers in Chennai. (PTI)
Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan after interacting with Bihari workers in Chennai. (PTI)

From March 1 when four fake videos began circulating, various arms of the Tamil Nadu government and chief minister M K Stalin knew that this was a serious situation which could go out of control.

“As soon as we watched the fake videos we knew that this could cause extensive damage,” the senior official said. “So our effort had to be disproportionate to diffuse the situation.”

The government tackled viral fake news which had a huge traction and magnitude in two approaches -- while they reached out to the migrant workers to assure them that they were safe, parallely they began identifying people and agencies which were speaking fake news.

“We have filed 12 FIRs so far,” Tamil Nadu’s Director General of Police Sylendra Babu said. “90% of the misinformation has died down but we are continuing to fight fire. Even now vested interests are continuing to share a fake narrative. We don’t know yet if it is an orchestrated drama.”

It will take some time to connect the dots and establish why the fake news against Tamil Nadu attacking Hindi-speaking migrant workers, especially from Bihar, was being spread, said another official.

The 12 FIRs include cases against Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai, the Twitter handle of the BJP’s Bihar unit @BJP4Bihar, BJP spokesperson Prashant Umrao and Dainik Bhaskar newspaper’s editor, Mohammed Tanveer. On Monday Avadi city police commissionerate filed a case against the OpIndia webportal’s CEO Rahul Roushan, editor Nupur Sharma and other staffers based on a complaint by Suryaprakash, divisional secretary of DMK IT cell, that their posts on Twitter were creating apprehension among migrant workers.

Umrao from Uttar Pradesh has been granted anticipatory bail and a transit to report to a court in Chennai before March 20, the senior official quoted above said. “We had to send a message that no one has the luxury to spread this kind of fake news. We will not tolerate it. Absolutely not,” the official said. “And if they are bold enough to do that, there will be consequences.”

Police take legal opinion of the state’s additional public prosecutor while filing cases against political leaders and any important person, officials who did not want to be named said.

Tamil Nadu has more than 600,000 migrant workers with the maximum number being from Odisha, Bihar and Assam. The government believes there are several angles to the fake news being spread which most possibly is political and industrial, say officials. “The image of the state was concerning. It was important that the issue doesn’t hit industries,” an official said. “We had to be very careful. Such incidents if they lead to migrant workers leaving en masse, it will not just affect the state economy but also the country’s economy.”

On March 1, Tamil Nadu police issued a rebuttal in Hindi to establish that the circulating videos were not of crimes here. On March 2, DGP Babu released a video clarifying that there was no connection between the videos, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. “We requested newspapers and Twitter handles to take down the fake news but they refused so we registered criminal cases and informed them,” Babu said. “But panic and fear had already spread by then.”

On March 4, chief minister Stalin dialled his counterpart in Bihar, Nitish Kumar to condemn the fake news and assured him that the migrant workers who were helping the state will never be harmed. Industrialists, such as the exporters’ association in Tirupur’s garment factory, also released videos in Hindi ensuring workers of their safety. Hindi-speaking senior police officers in Tamil Nadu cadre also began releasing videos and speaking to migrant workers to convince them that the videos are not from Tamil Nadu. Helplines were released in districts where there are clusters of migrant workers such as in Tirupur, Erode, Chennai, Tambaram and Avadi.

During this time, a migrant worker under the influence of alcohol was hit by a moving train in Tirupur, another worker from Bihar died by suicide inside his room in Krishnagiri and day before another worker died after prolonged illness in Salem, the DPG said. These cases of accidents and deaths had contributed to the fake narrative that they were being murdered which the police were able to bust through CCTV footage and other evidence, he added. “We have won this battle but the war is not yet over,” the DGP said.

Migrant workers are on their way to their homes now to celebrate Holi and officials expect that they would come back.


    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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