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Kerala floods | State fights a battle against fake news too

Man posing in combat uniform criticises CM and relief efforts, Army calls him imposter; another viral audio by man asking people not to contribute to CM’s relief fund receives flak from all quarters

SNS | New Delhi |


The Indian Army has flagged a video posted on Twitter by a man in which he is seen criticizing the Kerala government for the manner in which it is carrying out the rescue operations in the flood-hit state. The man is wearing an Army combat uniform in the video. In a tweet posted on August 19, the Additional Directorate General of Public Information, Indian Army, said the man was an imposter who is spreading disinformation about the rescue and relief efforts during the devastating Kerala floods.

The video had gone viral on social media, especially WhasApp. The Indian Army has appealed to the public to forward any disinformation about Indian Army on its WhatsApp number +917290028579.

“Imposter wearing Army combat uniform in video spreading disinformation about rescue & relief efforts. Every effort by all & #IndianArmy  aimed to overcome this terrifying human tragedy.Forward disinformation about #IndianArmy on WhatsApp +917290028579. We are at it #KeralaFloods,” posted ADGPI.

In the video, the man identifies himself as an Army officer. He castigates Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan for not handing over the rescue efforts completely to the Indian Army.

The video began appearing on social media on Saturday night and soon made its way to the various web pages. It had gone viral, having received thousands of shares and likes.

From messages about bursting of dams to fake rescue calls, there has been a deluge of fake information surrounding the Kerala floods on WhatsApp and other social media platforms. The chief minister even issued a warning on Sunday to those involved in such activities.

“Efforts are in progress to save even the last person stranded. Many of the requests coming to helpline numbers are for people who are already rescued. Sending erroneous information can only delay rescue efforts. Kindly forward only messages that are valid,” the CMO Kerala posted on Twitter.

READ | Rains relent; flight operations begin at Naval airbase in Kochi

Meanwhile, a viral audio clip also kicked up a controversy on Sunday. One Suresh Kochattil, who claimed that he landed in Kochi “accidentally” and got stuck, shared an audio clip asking people not to send anything to Kerala saying the “rich” state did not need them.

The audio clip is in English, and a text version of it was posted on several Facebook pages. Kochattil can be heard saying most people impacted by the Kerala floods were from well to do families and that they did not need any charity. He also says Kerala has already received more than what is required, and casts doubt on the utilisation of the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund. He requests people to contribute to “organisations like Seva Bharathi”, instead.

Seva Bharathi is affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and Suresh Kochattil claims to be a member of both the RSS and the BJP.

READ | How and where you can donate to help Kerala

He also says in the clip what Kerala needs now is a strong labour force to rebuild the state, besides technicians, plumbers, electricians et al to get things back to shape. Suresh Kochattil is heard asking the listeners not to send clothes, saying people of Kerala would reject them because of their “ego”. He also says Kerala’s rich were not used to consuming “cheap rice” and advises people not to send rice. He also asks people not to send candles, matchboxes, sanitary napkins etc saying the state doesn’t need them.

People working on the ground, however, don’t agree.  A volunteer at a Kochi relief camp said people came out of their house in one set of clothing, that too wet, and desperately needed clothes. She also refuted the claim that there was no need for sanitary napkins, saying several women at the relief camps were menstruating and needed them. Besides, she said there were children, special children and ailing elderly people who needed diapers too.

Suresh Kochattil’s audio clip, shared widely in WhatsApp groups, invited flak from all quarters, especially from people involved in the rescue and relief efforts in Kerala and elsewhere ever since the floods were reported. People including some claiming to be RSS volunteers condemned Kochattil saying his words were in “bad taste”.

Kochattil later said he was getting “threatening calls” for his audio message. In a Facebook post, he also sought to “clarify” his statement.

A reply to his utterings, by one Thomas who is involved in the ongoing rescue and relief work as a volunteer, is also being shared widely on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.