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First fake news: In 1946, unverified story of raped woman spread like wild fire triggering communal tension

Most of us appalled by the spread of despicable fake news in recent times consider it a modern side effect of social media.  Be it the masquerading of pictures of Gujarat riots as violence in Bengal, photoshopping Indian flags on iconic photos and buildings, portraying movie scenes as violence against women, most of us implicitly assume that all of these fake news are the fault of social media.  Social media has given people the opportunity to connect freely with each other at a lightning speed and fake new

Staff correspondent, NewsCrunch

Most of us appalled by the spread of despicable fake news in recent times consider it a modern side effect of social media.

Be it the masquerading of pictures of Gujarat riots as violence in Bengal, photoshopping Indian flags on iconic photos and buildings, portraying movie scenes as violence against women, most of us implicitly assume that all of these fake news are the fault of social media.

Social media has given people the opportunity to connect freely with each other at a lightning speed and fake news peddlers are making the most out of it - there is no doubt about that.

But it turns out that fake news had its day as far back as 1946, when modern technology was nowhere to be seen.

The first example was a heart rending account of a violated ‘Hindu’ woman at Noakhali in Bengal. The account was published in Kalyan, a monthly magazine published by Gita Press  in 1946, notes writer Akshaya Mukul The Hindu.

The account of a Bengali woman raped in front of her husband and in laws and asking her fellow Hindu brothers for revenge against the assailing Muslims spread like wildfire to regions as far away as Maharashtra.

Strangely, the colonial administration could never locate the victim.

It was almost certain that the news was cooked up, but the administration decided to issue a warning rather than impose punishment, thanks to a biased role played by Home Secretary Rajeshwar Dayal.

The fake story became so successful that it spawned many other such allegations and violence between the two communities emerged at many places - the basis of which was atrocities that had only occurred in the imagination of a bigot publisher.

Before long, reputed newspapers such as Mahratta in Pune began to publish these articles without a shred of proof.

When the colonial administration finally woke up and tried to stop the spread of such malicious and untrue news, a religious leader Raghavacharya Swamy took up its defence in the name of the freedom of expression. The administration had to drop its case against Mahratta in the name of the autonomy of the fourth estate. 

Prominent newspapers continued to churn out dubious articles picked up from popular rumour mills, triggering violence and ill will.

This was how fake news won the day half a century ago. In the ensuing sixty years, not much has changed.

 

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