On October 29, multiple blasts took place at a convention centre housing a religious gathering of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Kalamassery in Kochi, Kerala. As per several media reports, the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) blasts has led to the death of three people and has left more than a 100 people injured. Two women, who were a part of the convention, had lost their lives on the spot while a minor had succumbed to her burns and injuries later. As per a report of the Hindu, the minority Christian sect had gathered for the final day of a three-day-long prayer meeting. More than 2,000 followers were attending the said event.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses is a religious movement which believes that the traditional Christian churches have deviated from the actual teachings of the Bible and that the destruction of the world is imminent.
A few hours after the incident, a man claiming to be a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses had posted a video on social media claiming responsibility for the attacks. The aforementioned man, namely Dominic Martin, had also surrendered before the police in Thrissur district of the State pursuant to uploading his video on Facebook.
In his statement, translated from Malayalam by SouthFirst, Martin stated that he was a registered member of the religious group and was angry with its “anti-national” teachings. “During the past six years, I’ve made an effort to seriously study what they’re teaching. I quickly realised that they were presenting a faulty philosophy. I realised their doctrines are anti-national,” Martin said in his statement. Martin had further stated that he found the paths of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be incorrect and found this to be a solution to crushing their “erroneous philosophy”. He further said that he found the existence of this particular organisation to be entirely unnecessary for this land, as per SouthFirst.
CM chairs all party meeting
On Monday, October 30, chief minister (CM), Pinarayi Vijayan, who has been vocal about the communalisation of the crime, chaired an all-party meeting to speak on the attack, wherein all members unanimously resolved to resist efforts to create religious intolerance and mistrust, as per the report of PTI. As per a report of Livemint, CM Vijayan also visited the blast site on Monday to meet the relatives of the victims and assess the situation. He had again urged people to steer clear of controversies in connection with blasts and face the issue with restraint and unity.
The 48-year-old posted his confession in a Facebook video, which has since been deleted, and handed himself in at a nearby police station. After detaining Martin, the Kerala police asserted that they are yet to conduct the investigation and are trying to verify the confession given by him. As per a report of BBC, Kerala police’s public relations officer Pramod Kumar had said “He is in our custody but we have not recorded his arrest so far. We are still trying to ascertain the veracity of his statement; it will take some time.” As per media reports, Martin has been booked under sections 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Explosive Substances Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. A 20-member team has been made to investigate the case.
Political leaders fuel communal fires
As soon as the reports of blasts, resultant death and injuries started surfacing on social media, two categories of people were revealed, one of whom were praying for the safety of the people and demanding a fair injury and the other one which, even before any evidence had emerged, falsely proclaimed the blasts to be a communal attack. Since protests in solidarity with Palestine, which is facing a genocide and attack on human rights of an unprecedented stature, it easier for the right wing to point their finder at the protestors too.
A few hours after the blasts, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had reacted sharply, and criticised senior BJP leader and Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar for the social media posts put up by him in regards to the Kalamassery blasts. In his posts, Chandrashekhar had taken to ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) and had criticised Vijayan for allowing a protest in Kerala where allegedly the head of the militant organisation ‘Hamas’ had spoken. As per Chandrashekhar, the CM had been “Sitting in Delhi and protesting against Israel, when in Kerala open calls by Terrorist Hamas for Jihad are causing attacks and bomb blasts on innocent Christians.” He had also accused Vijayan of indulging in the “dirty politics of appeasement.”
The post by Chandrashekhar can be viewed here:
#WATCH | On explosion at the Convention Centre in Kalamassery, Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar says, ” It is very sad to hear about this blasts targeting Christian community…it is very depressing…I hold the Kerala govt responsible for this because just yesterday they… pic.twitter.com/KHXeLjs3Oh
— ANI (@ANI) October 29, 2023
As per a report of Indian Express, Union Minister and senior BJP leader V Muraleedharan had also called for a probe into “terror activities against Christian gatherings”, while Kerala BJP president K Surendran had declared that the incident needed to be viewed in the backdrop of the “pro-Palestine and pro-Hamas stance taken by the mainstream parties in the state”.
Notably, pursuant to this, many right-wing social media users started building on this conspiracy and sharing posts correlating the blasts to an online speech by a former Hamas leader Khaled Mashal at a pro-Palestine rally in Kerala, which had taken place a day prior, on October 28. As per a report of the News Minute, former Hamas chief Khaled Mashel had virtually addressed a Palestine solidarity rally held in Malappuram by Solidarity Youth Movement, the youth organisation of Jamaat-e-Islami, where he said that support must be extended to Palestinians and that Israeli forces are taking revenge on Palestinians. On ‘X’, these accounts had peddled the “aforementioned conspiracy” and shared visuals of the explosions taking place at the convention centre. In these posts, with no corroboration at all from any investigation agencies, the extremist users “claimed” that “radical Islamists” had bombed this gathering.
An example of such a post is as follows:
BIG BREAKING: Four blasts in Kerala
Four coordinated blasts rock Kerala where Jews live in Kalamassery
This comes day after Former #Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal surfaced in Kerala to make virtual address ata pro-Palestine rally in Malappuram
Do you all still doubt The Kerala… pic.twitter.com/fk7sy5Kv33
— Rohan Dua (@rohanduaT02) October 29, 2023
So all the bjp propagandists
decided that the culprit is a Muslim targeting Jews.
They didn’t wait for the @TheKeralaPolice to investigate or address the press.
Look at the number of reposts and likes, none of these anti nationals cared about the diplomatic crisis that could… pic.twitter.com/uci3Ud7sTy
— Lavanya Ballal Jain (@LavanyaBallal) October 29, 2023
Responding to this, during a press conference, CM Vijayan had slammed the statements being made by the ruling party leaders. As per a report of the NDTV, Vijayan had, without taking the name of Rajeev Chandrasekhar, sought to ask on what (and whose) information the union minister made such remarks against him and how a person holding a responsible position could come out with such statements while the investigation was going on? Further, Vijayan had termed Chandrashekhar’s criticism of the chief minister himself and the Kerala government to be a part of his completely communal outlook.
“A person who holds the post of minister should have shown at least some respect to the investigating agencies. Though the Kerala police is probing the incident now, we all saw reports that central agencies have also reached the site,” the Chief Minister said, as per NDTV report.
He further said they have taken a stand targeting a particular group, and it was part of their communal stand, but Kerala has never followed any such “agenda.” In addition to this, in his address at the press conference, Vijayan also stated that other ministers from the same party (BJP) who were in support of the union minister had also come out with similar statements. Lastly, he urged people to not fall for such communal campaigns as well as not view the statements being made with much seriousness.
Misinformation and fake news take over social media
The Kerala Police, on Sunday (October 29) itself, had issued a warning against propagating fake news through social media platforms regarding the incident of a serial blast that took place at a prayer meeting in Kalamassery. As per a report of ANI news, Kerala Director General of Police (DGP) Shaik Darvesh Sahib had said in a statement that “I request that no provocative words or hate be posted on social media. If anybody does that, stringent action will be taken against them.” He had also stated that the police had intensified round-the-clock surveillance on social media to detect accounts spreading such fake messages. Notably, when the DGP was asked whether this was a terrorist attack, the DGP had said that at this point of the investigation, no confirmation can be given about this.
And yet, even after the warnings and clarification issued by the Kerala Police, social media users had indulged in spreading misinformation, making communally inflammatory remarks and peddling fake news and fake theories. Mohammed Zubair, fact checker and co-founder of AltNews, has been actively highlighting the fake social media posts that are being shared on ‘X’. In many of these posts, he has also tagged the Kerala Police, urging them to take action against the misinformation being spread on social media by hate-mongers.
The posts by Zubair are as follows:
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) October 29, 2023
Soon after a Blast at a convention center in Kalamassery, Kerala.
A right wing troll tweet tried to set a narrative, ‘Jews were were present at the place’ of the blast. Linking it to Muslims.
Later two “journalists” @rohanduaT02 and @pradip103 repeated the same narrative. pic.twitter.com/DNlwswmY1S
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) October 29, 2023
In a highly distasteful effort of New18Kerala to stir up communal division, a photo of a visibly Muslims man (wearing the head cap) was used as a thumbnail on their YouTube platform on the video covering the Kerala bomb blasts.
The thumbnail can be viewed here:
it’s vital to address this matter promptly. This act is fueling division and sowing discord in our… pic.twitter.com/OI0V0blOMB
— SHAMSI☀️ (@shamseerHashim) October 29, 2023
Another ‘X’ account, run by Lavanya Ballal Jain of the Indian National Congress (ironically the Congress, the opposition in Kerala has fuelled even the “love jihad” bogey in the past!) , had called out a right wing “activist” for spreading misinformation through their post by targeting the blasts with the pro-Palestine protest.
The post can be viewed here:
Hello @MrSinha_ why did you delete your misinformation?
Is it because you are scared of the repercussions of misinformation?
The culprit is a fellow Jehovah’s witness Dominic Martin, while you claimed it was Muslims targeting Jews in Kochi .
Were you intending to create… pic.twitter.com/aH8pXqDVuy
— Lavanya Ballal Jain (@LavanyaBallal) October 29, 2023
According to a report of the Hindu, the Special Branch’s social media monitoring mechanism, the police social media cell, police Cyberdome and the State Police Media Centre of Kerala are monitoring the cyber space for any hateful comments being posted. Till now, at least three cases have been filed by the Kerala Police across Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta districts on charges of posting communally inflammatory social media posts. The police have put in place multiple mechanisms to trawl the cyber space for posts trying to create communal hatred shortly after the blasts. The problematic posts are being forwarded to the police stations concerned for registering cases and taking further action. The Hindu report has provided that as per their sources, the number of such cases being filed by the Kerala Police is likely to increase.