Journalists are responsible for disseminating news to the masses but there are times when they themselves become news.
This happened to Rahul Upadhyay, a journalist from Kasganj, India, a city about 100 miles east of New Delhi. Upadhyay was in the solace of his home when he found out, much to his horror, that he has died.
India is a secular state inhabiting people from diversified religions, culture and civilizations. However, atrocities against minorities, such as brutal killings of Muslims by cow vigilantes, at the hands of Hindu extremists indicates secularism in India, at least under the current administration, is nothing but a face.
Unlike most parts of the country where violent outbreaks between Hindus and Muslims have become common, ever since Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi was sworn in as India’s Prime Minister in 2014, the people in Kasganj used to live in harmony. That was the state of affairs until last year when Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu hardliner, was elected as the state’s chief minister.
During the country’s Republic Day celebrations on Jan. 26, Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Kasganj.
Amid the clashes, several schools, shops and a mosque were vandalized. Buses and cars were burned. The loss was not only monetary, though. At least one person died as a result of the violence.
Also, a mob allegedly attacked a man, identified as Mohd Akram, by dragging him out of his car and trying to gouge out his eye. Akram was on his way to the hospital with his pregnant wife, who was in labor. He lost an eye but somehow managed to escape, alive, and get to the hospital where his wife delivered a baby girl.
Observing the intensity of the situation, Upadhyay, a 24-year-old media graduate, decided to stay at home. He had no clue about the speculation of his death until his friend called him in the evening. “You have been elevated to being a martyr,” his friend told him.
The news of Upadhyay’s death in the clashes spread like wildfire and within few hours, thousands of messages mourning “martyr Rahul” were shared across the social media in the Uttar Pradesh state. The incorrect reports aggravated the situation, leading the authorities to shutdown the internet in the state of Uttar Pradesh, including Kasganj.
Before Upadhyay could discover what damage his death’s fake news has caused, candlelight vigils honoring him had set the streets of seven districts on fire. Some vigils were even attended by local politicians.
“No media house or politician bothered to visit my place or call me first to confirm that I was indeed dead,” he told The New York Times. “The marketplace of rumors had heated up beyond control.”
Nearly 100 people, including both Hindus and Muslims, were arrested at the end of the clash that lasted for a week. Mohar Singh Tomar, a Kasgani police officer investigating the matter, said it was unclear how the tragic event took place or who initiated it.
A group of Muslims had reportedly gathered in an open square to celebrate the Republic Day on Jan. 26, when a rally of Hindu supremacists’ student group also reached the spot. The group asked the Muslims to move the chairs so they could pass.
Sushil Gupta, father of Abishek Gupta, the man who died in the clashes, held the Muslims responsible for the incident. He told the police they had began chanting the slogans “Long Live Pakistan,” telling the students’ group they could only pass if they would also chant “Hail Pakistan.” Another eyewitness, Shamsul Arafeen, had a different story to tell. “They started abusing us, saying, ‘If you want to live in Hindustan [India], you must chant ‘Hail Sita and Ram [two Hindu gods],’” the 70-year-old Muslim tailor told the Times.
People on both sides started throwing stones at each other and setting shops on fire. In order to prevent the videos of riots from spreading, the authorities shut down the internet.
The incident left many people terrorized who were compelled to stay at home, following the “never felt before fear” of the deadly clashes.
“I realized there were people who were using me to try and instigate further violence. The narrative was a, out Hindus being killed and I reached out to police and district administration. Eventually I got through,” Upadhyay told The Indian Express.
Upadhyay has still not been able to resolve the mystery as to who reported his death in the first place.
Ever since the riots erupted, numerous people have paid him a visit, asking about his well-being. “My mother had to serve endless cups of tea to visitors and convince them that I was alive,” he said. Upadhyay has responded to nearly 400 calls assuring people that he is very much alive.
However, realizing the severity of the situation, Upadhyay took to social media to refute the rumors of his death. In a recorded message sent out into cyberspace, the journalist announced, “I am Rahul Upadhyay… I am well and I have not even received a scratch.”
Unfortunately, by the time his message was shared, pamphlets featuring his photographs with a warning to “take revenge for the death of martyr Rahul Upadhyay,” had already been disseminated in Gorakhpur, a city hundreds of miles away from Kasganj.
A Hindu supremacist, Purnendra Pratap Singh Solanki, who is also the district president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, described the clash as a “preplanned conspiracy” designed by the Muslims.
“What is very problematic for us is that Muslims are ruled by their religion first,” he said. “They consider themselves Muslims before Indians, whereas the Hindus consider themselves Indians first and then Hindus.” According to Solanki, the only way to tackle such issues is “to control their [Muslims’] population.”
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters, Arko Datta