By: rajini kg
March 10 2023
In late February and early March 2023, messaging groups for migrant workers in the southern state of Tamil Nadu were filled with videos claiming to show attacks on Hindi-speaking workers – particularly those from Bihar. One of the largest Hindi-language dailies in the country, Dainik Bhaskar, purported to have interviewed laborers about these attacks amid growing fears of widespread violence.
The narratives surfacing were gruesome, including claims that 15 laborers were hanged in a room, 12 of whom died. These claims soon went viral on social media, triggering a political row. The Bihar unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party at the central level but the opposition in the state, protested inside and outside the Bihar legislative assembly, alleging that the state government was not doing enough to protect Bihari migrants.
A tweet by BJP Bihar's official Twitter handle claimed that twelve Bihari workers had died while Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav was celebrating Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin's birthday on March 1 (archived version here). This tweet was taken down, but similar comments by individual leaders, including spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan, about Yadav engaging in speeches with Davidra Munnetra Kazhagam's (DMK) Stalin, remain online.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar tweeted on March 2 that he learned of the alleged attacks on Bihari laborers from newspapers. He also said that he had asked the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police from the northern Indian state to reach out to their counterparts and ensure the safety of migrant workers.
At this stage, it looked like the claims were grounded in some reality, and that Hindi-speaking migrant workers in Tamil Nadu faced a genuine threat.
Soon after Kumar's tweet, Tamil Nadu's Director General of Police Sylendra Babu clarified that two clips of the alleged attacks – posted on Twitter and widely shared by a user called Mohammad Tanvir (@TanveerPost) – were "false."
Screenshot from video of Tamil Nadu DGP Sylendra Babu (Source: Twitter/tnpoliceoffl)
"Somebody in Bihar has posted a false and mischievous video saying that the migrant workers of Bihar are attacked in Tamil Nadu. Two videos posted are false (sic)," Babu said. He added that two of the most prominent videos being shared did not depict clashes between migrant workers and locals from Tamil Nadu: one was between two groups of Bihari migrant workers in Tiruppur, and the other showed an altercation between Coimbatore locals. "The facts are twisted to make it appear as if migrant workers of Bihar are attacked in Tamil Nadu. Here people are living very peacefully," the DGP added.
However, Dainik Bhaskar continued to suggest that migrant workers faced genuine threats and tensions were high. It published a report that migrants leaving Tamil Nadu were questioning the DGP's statement that there was peace.
Logically reached out to the police, district administration, and local journalists to understand the situation on the ground.
Tiruppur's District Collector and District Magistrate Dr. S Vineeth told Logically that the rumors are false. According to him, videos from incidents outside the state were being edited and misrepresented to be from Tamil Nadu. He also specifically contested the claim about 15 people being hanged in a room, calling it fake news, and saying no such incident had taken place.
Sudhakar, a Coimbatore-based local journalist, told Logically that the claims were false. "One or one and half months ago, a migrant worker was attacked in Tiruppur over personal issues. The videos circulating are fake. There are no such incidents that occurred recently," he explained.
Logically's fact checking team reviewed videos and images making rounds on social media as well as as migrant workers' WhatsApp groups. We found that they followed a particular playbook to make false claims, and broadly fit within certain narratives.
1. Video of a man attacked in Hyderabad shared as recorded in Tamil Nadu
In a video which was widely shared on social media and on migrant workers' WhatsApp groups, three people can be seen attacking a man with a machete on the side of a road in broad daylight. Dainik Bhaskar also used this video in its March 2 article, claiming 12 Hindi-speaking migrants had been killed in Tamil Nadu.
Screenshot from original video (Source: Twitter/Iqbal Hussain اقبال حسین)
A reverse image search for keyframes from the video led us to a (trigger warning: violence) tweet by Iqbal Hussain, a journalist from News18 Hyderabad, where he had posted the same video on January 22, 2023. The video was captioned, "Very sad; Day by Day, Cases of murder are increasing in #Hyderabad, @mahmoodalitrs @TelanganaDGP."
Several other local news outlets reported that the incident took place elsewhere. NTV Telugu, a Telugu-language news channel, noted that the video is from Jiyaguda, Hyderabad. The Times of India reported that three of the men featured in the viral video were detained by police a day after the brutal murder in Jiyaguda in broad daylight. The attack was reportedly over a financial disagreement.
2. Video from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, claimed to be from Tamil Nadu
In another video shared by a Patna-based news network, which had at least 669,000 views on Twitter before being taken down, a man wearing a blue shirt could be seen attacking another man wearing a white shirt in the middle of the road. Through a reverse image search, we found that the video shows a lawyer being attacked by a group of men in Jodhpur.
Screenshot from video (Source: Twitter/Patna Live News Network)
BJP leader Khushbu Sundar had posted the same video on February 22, 2023, who used it to criticize the state of law and order in Rajasthan, where the Congress forms the government. She had named the victim as a lawyer, Jugraj Chauhan, who had been "waylaid & murdered in Jodhpur in broad daylight." The Deputy Commissioner of Police East Jodhpur confirmed the attack against Chauhan took place in the city, replying to Sundar's tweet in Hindi: "The accused has been arrested after registering a case in Police Station Mata Ka Than. There was a family land dispute."
Logically had already fact checked a previous claim about this video that Muslim assailants were attacking a Hindu man.
3. Video of attack on man facing criminal case in Coimbatore falsely linked to migrant workers
A third viral video showed three men covering their faces with masks and attacking a man wearing a blue shirt (again with a machete) in a residential area.
Screenshot from video (Source: Twitter/Rajvanshi Rajbhar Rajvanshi Rajbhar)
After examining the video closely, we found that there was a shop board with Tamil text, suggesting this video was actually shot in Tamil Nadu. We confirmed that the video was from Coimbatore through a reverse image search. Local news outlet SimpliCity Coimbatore posted a report on their YouTube channel on February 15, 2023; at the 1:03 minute mark, one can see the visuals from the viral video.
The New Indian Express also reported that on February 13, 2023, a group of four wearing masks attacked two men heading to a court hearing in Gopalapuram. While one victim was hacked with a machete, the other suffered head injuries. The police arrested seven people in connection with the murder.
The incident depicted in this video found its way into several posts and narratives about the alleged situation in Tamil Nadu. A video of the victim's body covered by a white cloth was linked to claims about 12 migrant workers being killed, while a picture of the injured man was shared with the false claim that he was a Bihari worker.
4. Video from Punjab falsely said to be from Tamil Nadu
In another viral video, two people are seen beating up a man wearing a green and white jacket using metal rods and some kind of tool, while a third man stands.
However, the attackers (and the victim) in the video can be heard speaking Punjabi, not Tamil. We found that member of parliament from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Sukhbir Singh Badal had posted the same video on Twitter on February 20, 2023, arguing that it shows that "Jungle Raj prevails in Punjab" under the rule of current Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.
The Sangur police confirmed that the incident had taken place in Punjab, with their official Twitter handle stating (in a reply to Badal's tweet) that a case was registered against six people accused of attacking the man. The Times of India also reported on the incident, with the victim's wife alleging the accused were local drug addicts.
5. Video of a murder in Karnataka shared as attack on migrants in Tamil Nadu
A fifth video that is being circulated shows three men attacking a man wearing a green shirt. One attacker is using a machete, another an axe, while the third restrains the victim.
Through a reverse image search, we found that a news report regarding the viral video was uploaded on the YouTube channel of Goa-based news platform Goan Varta Live on August 9, 2021. At the 0:41 mark, one can see the visuals from the viral video; according to the channel, it shows the murder of one Anwar.
On August 9, 2021, the Times of India reported that a criminal named Anwar Shaikh, also known as Tiger Anwar, had been killed in Haveri district in Karnataka, as a result of a previous dispute with his attackers. Deccan Herald also confirmed that the murder took place in Haveri, Karnataka, and noted that the video of the murder had gone viral.
6. Murder of Bihar man by a Jharkhand native in Tamil Nadu and a suicide falsely claimed to be attacks by locals
Two other claims, linked in posts such as this one by a BJP worker, were that two Bihar workers, Pawan Yadav and Monu Das, were hacked to death and hanged, respectively. Images and videos were being shared in other posts claiming to show the two incidents, as well as a news report from Dainik Bhaskar that claimed no politicians had reached out to Yadav's family.
However, by March 4, the Tamil Nadu and Bihar police forces addressed both deaths. Tiruppur DCP Abhishek Gupta gave a press briefing in which he stated that Yadav was murdered by a man from another state, not residents of Tamil Nadu. Bihar-based news channel News4Nation tracked Yadav's brother Niraj, who also confirmed the same.
Regarding Das' death, the Bihar police arrested a local resident for falsely sharing images claiming he had been attacked and hanged. Fact checking platform Alt News obtained a statement from the Krishnagiri police in Tamil Nadu, noting that Das died by suicide.
In Dr. Vineeth's opinion, misinformation about attacks on migrant workers in Tamil Nadu began with a video of a quarrel that took place in Tiruppur on January 14, 2023. The video, which emerged around January 26, showed two groups of workers clashing in a garment unit.
According to the New Indian Express (TNIE), a migrant worker from the garment unit ventured outside to visit a roadside store for a break. A local resident yelled at him and blew cigarette smoke in his face. An argument broke out between the two, and later snowballed into a physical altercation. Commissioner of Police Pravin Kumar Abhinapu told TNIE that others joined, and the two groups clashed. Later, the local police patrol intervened and de-escalated the situation.
While this incident appeared to have been a personal dispute, as local journalist Sudhakar had told Logically, it was shared with a narrative of Hindi-speaking migrants being attacked.
About two weeks later, another video went viral on social media and WhatsApp. The video showed a man abusing and assaulting Hindi-speaking workers in a crowded train compartment. This incident took place on February 15, onboard a train in Chennai, according to the Indian Express.
Screenshot from video (Source: Twitter/Manan krishna)
We found that on February 16, 2023, the Tamil Nadu Government Railway Police (GRP) had posted the same video with the caption: "FIR has been registered by GRP Chennai against the perpetrators." The Hindu reported that a man was arrested for allegedly attacking and abusing a group of migrant laborers when he was traveling in Vaigai Express. The report also showed a screengrab from the viral video. This is the only incident that was reliably reported in February where migrant workers were attacked and abused in Tamil Nadu.
This incident could be a possible inflection point, with reports from Dainik Bhaskar and other news media claiming a "mass exodus" of laborers from Tamil Nadu following it. While these reports included comments from Bihari laborers, these were not from victims or witnesses of the alleged attacks.
The Indian Express reports that the Tamil Nadu police's preliminary inquiries have suggested a different reason. According to them, 'fake news' began circulating after the celebrations for Chief Minister MK Stalin's birthday on March 1 – an event considered by some commentators as a show of 'Opposition unity' given it was attended by Tejashwi Yadav from Bihar's Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav, and Farooq Abdullah from the National Conference.
From March 2 onwards, Dainik Bhaskar and other news media, independent journalists, as well as BJP leaders and spokespersons started spreading the claims, including those which alleged a certain number of deaths, according to police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to the newspaper. No additional evidence has as yet been provided to support this claim.
"We won't leave anybody for spreading fake news," Tamil Nadu police chief Babu had said in his video clarification. Two days later, on March 4, the state police filed a criminal case against the four persons they considered responsible for spreading the claims:
BJP Tamil Nadu chief K Annamalai went on record refuting the claims about the attacks on migrants, saying he had told the BJP Bihar chief that the police and government had been giving protection and safety to migrants, according to the Indian Express. However, on Sunday, March 5, a criminal case was registered against Annamalai for subsequently saying the DMK party's leaders had spread hate against Hindi-speakers and North Indians in the state. Annamalai strongly objected to the case, calling it a diversion.
A day later, the police in a Chennai suburb registered an FIR against OpIndia, its CEO Rahul Roushan and editor Nupur Sharma, for allegedly spreading fake news and creating a sense of fear among migrant workers in the state. The rightwing news portal, which has often been called out for sharing unconfirmed and incorrect information, had curated the reports by Dainik Bhaskar (some aspects of which had been retracted by the Hindi daily) in articles that continue to be available on their website.
The district administrations in Coimbatore and Tiruppur, where many migrant workers are employed, had issued appeals in Hindi as early as March 3, urging workers not to panic. The police, industrial helpline, and district administration also set up helplines for migrant workers (9498101300 and 9498101320).
Despite these clarifications and the statements from police officials like Babu, the deluge of claims has had consequences. Several industries across Tamil Nadu are heavily dependent on Hindi-speaking migrant laborers who form a big part of the workforce, and several reports have emerged of workers staying away from work or leaving after seeing videos of alleged attacks on migrant employees.
Vineeth suggested to news agency ANI, that the real reason why many migrant workers had left was for Holi celebrations, not out of fear. He also claimed that a team of officials from Bihar visited Tiruppur and met relevant stakeholders to reassure them.
However, the situation is not quite so simple. A manager of a construction company told Logically that many of the migrant workers had gone home, citing Holi as a reason. They had previously told him they were concerned about the videos, which they had also shared with him. Given the assurances by police and local administrations, he believed migrants would return, but would take at least a month after gauging the situation on ground.
The Hindu reported on March 5 that there had been genuine panic among migrant workers in the state. Some MSMEs reported that as many as 25 percent of their workforce did not show up for work on March 4, with several returning to their hometowns. A Chennai hotel association official and a managing director of a family restaurant chain told the newspaper that some of their workers had returned to their hometowns after getting calls from their families. However, both of them were confident that the workers would return after celebrating Holi.
The president of the Railway Suppliers' Association and owner of businesses in State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd (SIPCOT) told the Indian Express that nearly 2,000 workers had left the state over the last three days. Others expressed concerns about whether the workers would return after Holi despite the clarifications from the authorities, much like the construction manager who spoke to us.