By: soham shah
October 30 2023
Screenshots from X
Misinformation alleging that a series of blasts at a Sunday prayer meeting in Kerala’s Kalamassery on October 29 were linked to the Israel-Hamas war flooded social media shortly after news broke. The blasts took place at 9:30 a.m. at a convention center during a Jehovah’s Witness meeting, killing three people and injuring over 50.
A few hours after the blast, a man named Dominic Martin took responsibility on a Facebook live before surrendering to Kerala police. Martin claimed to be an ex-member of Jehovah’s Witness who grew disillusioned with the group’s “anti-national ideas.” He has been arrested and his confession is being investigated.
In the hours between the blasts and Martin’s confession, narratives claiming a Jewish gathering was intentionally attacked by Muslims as the Israel-Hamas conflict enters its fourth week gained widespread traction online. However, Jehovah’s Witness identify themselves as Christian.
An X (formerly Twitter) post viewed over 169K times by known misinformation spreader ‘MrSinha’ said, “Video of pro #HamasTerrorists rally by IsIamists in Kozhikode, Kerala. Today Kerala witnessed serial bomb blasts, Jews are targeted. Do we even need an inquiry to know who did it?”
Another post by former special forces officer of the Indian Army Major Surendra Poonia (671k followers) that received over 950k views said, “Today 4 bomb blasts rock #Kerala where Jews live in Kalamassery!."
Users also falsely linked the incident as a consequence of a pro-Palestine rally by Jamaat-Islami’s youth wing in Kerala where Hamas leader Khaled Mashal had virtually participated on October 28. At the event Mashal said, “Together, we will defeat Zionists and we will stand united for Gaza. They are destroying churches, temples, universities, and even UN institutions.”
Right-wing journalist Rohan Dua in a post that was viewed over 1.9 million times said, “Four coordinated blasts rock Kerala where Jews live in Kalamassery. This comes day after Former #Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal surfaced in Kerala to make a virtual address at a pro-Palestine rally in Malappuram.”
A post by known misinformation handle Bala said, “Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal addressed Jamaat-e-Islami in Malappuram and today blasts happened in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ meet. Do I need to say more about most literate state and the most peaceful community?.” “Peaceful community” is a term routinely used by the Indian right-wing sarcastically referring to Muslims.
Posts linking the blasts to the Jewish community (Source: X)
Union Minister Rajeev Chandrashekar also fanned communal flames by saying, “Just 24 hours after a Hamas leader was given the platform to spread jihad, blasts have rocked Kerala." This was reiterated by users nationwide.
Other posts blamed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s parent organization. One post said, “Hindu Extremist RSS have long history of attacks on Christians n #Kerala. Now comes attack on missionaries (sic)." A Facebook post said, “Kerala Bomb Blast #RSS Ki Investigation Zaroori Hai #Mandiro #Ashramo Mein BOMBS (Investigation into RSS is necessary) (sic).” Another X post said, “This is an elaborate plan by the RSS to divide the Christian and Muslim community.”
Posts targeting the RSS (Source: X, Facebook)
The first information report (FIR) filed after the incident accessed by Logically Facts clearly mentions that the attack happened at a Jehovah’s Witness event and makes no mention of Jewish persons. The FIR was filed under the Explosive Substances Act, and The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Regional Spokesperson for Kerala Region of Jehovah's Witness Sreekumar told Logically facts that the event had no relation to Jews. Nidhik Kalady who was present at the prayer meet said that the meeting was not over any other community or country.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (Ernakulam Central Subdivision) C Jayakumarw told Logically Facts that any posts claiming that the attack was related to Jewish people are false.
Martin’s statement on his Facebook live said he targeted the organization due to its teachings. “Six years ago, I realised that the organisation (Jehovah’s Witness) was on the wrong track. They teach anti-national ideas and I have tried multiple times to rectify this, but none of them were ready to change,” He said that he “had to react” as political parties would not involve themselves due to the organisation being religious.
Kerala Director General of Police (DGP) Sheikh Darvesh Sahib warned that provocative or hateful statements regarding the blasts should not be posted online. He said, “I request that no provocative words or hate be posted on social media. If anybody does that, stringent action will be taken against them.”
According to the 2011 Indian census, Kalamassery has a population of 71,038, of which only 19 people or 0.02 percent identified as ‘Other religions and persuasion,’ a category under which Jews would be counted. 41.76 percent locals are Hindus, 34.53 percent Muslims, and 23.42 percent Christians.
Kalamassery population by religion. Jews are included in ‘others.' (Source: Census 2011)
Meanwhile, the Kerala tourism website says that presently less than 50 Jews reside in the whole state.
Logically Facts spoke to Assistant Commissioner of Police (Thrikkakara Subdivision) PV Baby, who said that there is a negligible Jewish population in Kalamassery. A New Indian Express report from 2022 says that the Jewish population in Ernakulam, the district Kalamassery is in, is around 20. Baby also said that a Jewish person in the city has been provided police protection after he was forced to close his business due to threats after the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a denomination within the Adventist movement of the U.S. and are present worldwide. Jehovah is the name used to refer to God in the Old Testament of the Bible which was written in Hebrew.
A website on the community states they hold traditional Christian beliefs but also differ in many aspects - they believe Jesus Christ to be God’s agent but not God himself and do not worship him. Members of this sect follow a strict personal code of conduct which includes rejection of medical blood transfusions.
The official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses says that the organization is not Zionist. It says, “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not advocate Zionism as a religious doctrine, and they are completely neutral toward political Zionism.”
The series of blasts on Sunday sparked misinformation based on several false claims - Jehovah's Witness are not a Jewish sect who were targeted amid the Israel-Hamas war, and investigative authorities have not found any evidence linking the incident to the pro-Palestine rally on October 27. Additionally, Kerala Police confirmed to Logically Facts that the attack was not related to Jewish people, whose population in the area is marginal.