Manipur: Misleading information shared about India tensions

Burnt out water tanker in Manipur state, India
Image caption,Violence broke out in Manipur in early May

Misinformation has been widely shared in the violence-hit state of Manipur in north-east India, despite attempts by authorities to quash it by restricting internet access.

The conflict between the majority Meitei community and the tribal Kuki minority recently made global headlines after a video of a mob of men assaulting and stripping two women went viral, sparking outrage in India and beyond.

Warning: This article contains details some readers may find distressing

False claims about sexual violence

Attacks on women have been a particular source of false and misleading claims, dating back to the upsurge in violence in Manipur in early May.

The authorities shut down mobile internet services as soon as clashes began on 3 May to stop the spread of “disinformation and false rumours, through various social media platforms”.

A day later that was extended to include all internet services in the state.

Screengrab of tweet

But by then a graphic image of the body of a woman, wrapped in a plastic bag, incorrectly said to be a Meitei nurse who was raped and murdered by Kuki men, was already circulating.

Not only had the image appeared on social media, we have seen evidence of it also being shared on WhatsApp in the district of Churachandpur where clashes broke out on 3 May.

The claims surrounding the image are false because it not from Manipur at all. It is a photo of Aayushi Chaudhary, a 21-year-old woman who was killed in Delhi in November last year. Similarly, a false claim emerged on 5 May on social media that the bodies of 37 Meitei women, who had been raped and killed, and the body of a seven-year-old Meitei child, were at the Shija hospital in Manipur’s capital Imphal, awaiting post-mortems.

On Twitter, a number of posts repeated this claim, with almost identical wording. The posts were shared by newly-created accounts.

The BBC has also seen identically-worded text messages circulated in the local Manipuri language, as pictured in the example below. We’ve been told by journalists working in Manipur that, despite the mobile shutdown, it was still possible to communicate via text message.

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