By BBC Trending What’s popular and why
Evidence has emerged that a viral video that has polarised India – showing a controversial student leader apparently calling for the country to split – was in fact heavily doctored.
There’s a political drama playing out in India right now about the idea of nationalism, and who can question the state. Thousands have been marching on the streets. So let’s start with a line of two of context.
Kanhaiya Kumar is a prominent student leader in India. He recently argued that Afzal Guru, a convicted terrorist, should not have faced the death penalty. His words were deemed to be seditious, or “anti-nationalist,” and – in a move that captivated the national media – the authorities acted against him.
He was arrested and taken into judicial custody. Some have called the case a “watershed moment” for the country – but more on that later on.
As debate over the case reached fever pitch, a video emerged and went viral. It was broadcast by a number of news channels. It shows a speech by Kumar, who studies at the liberal leaning Jawaharlal Nehru University, and is being held up as proof of his seditious and anti-Indian intent.
“Kanhaiya’s ‘sedition’ exposed on tape,” ran the headline on NewsX, which broadcast footage of him speaking at a rally.
In the video the student leader is seen shouting “Azaadi”, or “freedom”. “We will get our freedom” he shouts, and is seen repeating the line over and over again. The implication is that Kumar was demanding freedom for the state of Kashmir from the nation of India. It’s the same cause that Afzal Guru had fought for, and so was further evidence of his anti-Indian sentiment, NewsX claimed.
But now a new video has surfaced, with more complete coverage of the event. It shows that the first video was cut and looped, apparently to paint Kumar in a particular light.
The new footage, published by ABP media, shows that Kumar was calling for freedom from poverty, from bloodshed and from inequality – not from India itself. None of his lines can really be interpreted as anti-Indian slogans when viewed in full, ABP claims in an article accompanying the video.
BBC Trending has approached both NewsX and ABP to answer questions about who provided the footage, or who may have made the edits. Neither has yet responded but we’ll update this article if we receive further clarification.
The controversy has caused a storm on social media, and many are angry about what they think was a deliberate attempt to frame Kumar.
“Everything was planned. Thanks ABP News for exposing the alleged propaganda against Kanhaiya [Kumar],” one typical comment read. “Shocking,” said another, and some targeted the channel that had run the original video: “NewsX – you guys need to apologize for appalling journalism.”
Not everybody was convinced by the ABP footage, however. “ABP news is propagating fake videos,” wrote one user, who appears to be in a minority.
The police have 90 days to bring charges against Kumar, but have now said they will not oppose bail. In a sedition case, the fact bail was offered may well indicate that he will not ultimately face charges, according to BBC Hindi. It isn’t clear if the disputed videos had any influence on that decision.
So what about that “watershed moment” then? Why has Kanhaiya Kumar become the focus of national attention?
It’s the latest in a long line of events that pit the BJP-led government against liberals who say intolerance is on the rise in India. The broad charge is that Hindu nationalists, buoyed by the electoral success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling BJP party, are encouraging nationalism, and failing to protect the rights of minorities.
But the debate is a complicated one. Back in October, BBC Trending reported on a string of cases that triggered a nationwide debate on the topic.