In June, a floods in Assam led to a death toll of 179 people and the Silchar town remained submerged for several days. This prompted several media outlets to allege that the incident was man-made and they termed it 'flood jihad'.
As of July 3, the floods have killed 179 people as per this report by The Hindu. The Logical Indian had reported that residents in Silchar city faced problems due to the crematory and burial grounds being submerged in water due to floods.
The Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had asserted that the flooding situation was man-made by some 'miscreants.' In a statement to reporters on June 26, he said, "Silchar's flood was man-made. It would not have happened had the embankment at Bethukandi not been breached by some miscreants."
Following his comments, the Assam police arrested Kabul Khan, Mithu Hussain Laskar, Nazir Hussian Laskar, and Ripon Khan in the first week of July, as per this Times of India report. They had been arrested on charges of sabotaging a dyke which led to the floods.
On July 5, 2022, NewsX had a panel discussing the possibility of a 'flood jihad' in Assam. Panellists such as former diplomat Bhaswati Mukherjee and former Home Ministry official RVS Mani expressed their belief that the "flood jihad" took place.
Media outlets such as Sudharshan News and OneIndia asserted that there was a conspiracy behind the floods, further circulating the idea of 'flood jihad'.
Netizens circulated the claim across social media as well. Rahul Nagar, the social media in-charge of BJP's OBC Morcha, also circulated the claim. The translated tweet reads, "They have succeeded in drowning the whole of Assam, what to name it now. #FloodJihad"
Media personalities such as Gaurav Sawant, the Managing Editor at India Today, Abhijit Majumdar, Editor-in-Chief at Earshot, and Himanshu Jha, the Deputy Chief Content Producer at Live Hindustan, circulated the claim.
Right-wing propaganda page Kreately also circulated the claim along with other users.
The viral posts and several media outlets claim that the floods in Assam's Silchar were 'man-made' and created by persons from the Muslim community. It is alleged that the floods were a part of a communal conspiracy.
The Logical Indian fact check team verified the viral claim and found it to be false. The issue of embankments in Assam is a pervasive one which has troubled the residents for many years.
We conducted a keyword search to investigate the claims made by the media outlets. First, we conducted a keyword search to find out the rainfall patterns in Assam before the floods. We came across reports by The Times of India and Hindustan Times. The reports say that in Assam's pre-monsoon season (March to May), the rainfall in the June season was the highest in 121 years with 858.1mm precipitation, breaking the earlier record of 789.5mm recorded in 1966.
As per this Hindu report published on June 26, 2022, Assam's annual normal rainfall between 1961 and 2010 was recorded at 2,239.4 mm.
However, Assam received 1,891.9 mm of rainfall between just March 1 to June 24. We came across this report by The Telegraph published on July 7, 2022, which provided more details about the flooding of Silchar in Assam. The report quotes Cachar Superintendent of Police Ramandeep Kaur Dhillon. She states that the police launched a probe after the irrigation department lodged a complaint on May 23 about miscreants caused damage to the Bethukandi dyke. The report states that the dyke provides protection to the Silchar town.
The breach caused by the "miscreants" allowed the flow of water from their area, which is vulnerable to waterlogging, to flow into the river Barak.
The Telegraph report also states that the residents of Bethukandi had made several appeals to the authorities to find a permanent solution to waterlogging. The report quotes a source who said that the administration, too, should have taken timely action against the miscreants and plugged the breach on time.
We came across a Firstpost report published on May 17, 2022, which indicated that the problem with the dyke and embankments has been persisting for a long period of time. The report states that floods are worsened due to the building of embankments which started from the 1950s. "Any unplanned construction on or around the river's natural path is bound to cause disaster," the report states.
Due to the unrelaibility of dams, the government has suspended a number of dam projects. This has led to building of embankments on the river, a solution which the report says, "is only interim and ad-hoc measure for short-term mitigation." The Firstpost report suggests that steps must be undertaken to improve the condition of embankments.
In our Fact Check, we also came across this report from Scroll.in which described how the flooding incident in Silchar had been given a communal spin.
The report published on 12 July 2022, detailed how the Bethukandi embankment is also a road which separates the Barak River from the Mahisha Beel, a natural reservoir that takes in the overflowing river water, preventing Silchar town from being inundated.
After the floods hit Bethukandi in May, residents cut through the embankment to form a canal that would create an outlet for the accumulated water from their homes into the Barak River. The Scroll report quotes residents of Bethukandi saying that cutting through the embankment was not an act of sabotage but that they had to do it in order to survive the rains in May.
A Cachar district irrigation department official spoke to Scroll.in saying that a sluice gate, for draining out water into the Barak river, had been under construction at Bethukandi since 2015. However, work was halted in 2018 since the contractors were not paid. On July 3, after the floods, the Cachar district administration posted on Facebook that the sluice gate at Bethukandi had been restored.
The report quotes Parna Das, a resident of Bethukandi, who said that the people were compelled to cut through the embankment due to the alleged indifference of the local administration.
An official from the water resources department said that the residents' action in removing the embankment was not unreasonable. The official states, "We can't go against public sentiment in that situation as they were suffering."
We also came across this report by The Print published on 11 July 2022. The report quotes Joydeep Biswas, a professor at Cachar University, who states that the flooding in the town could have been avoided. "The embankment was damaged on 23 May and the local flooding had been resolved. Nothing was done after that".
The Print report also quotes Cachar Deputy Commissioner Keerthi Jalli as saying, that the administration did its best to repair the damage but heavy rains foiled all attempts. In our Fact Check, we also came across this tweet published on July 6, 2022, which contained a statement by Cachar SP Ramandeep Kaur. In the statement she can be heard saying, "Whoever have circulated misleading information across social media, will face investigation from our social media cell and subsequent action will be taken".
We came across the extended statement by Cachar SP Kaur posted by BartaLipi on July 6.
She states, "We launched our investigation into the breaking of the embankment and have arrested four people till now. We have noticed particular rumors spreading across social media groups, WhatsApp groups, web portals, national and local news channels. There is no communal angle behind the incident. It is purely a matter where some affected persons broke the dyke."
She continues, "The incident has been unnecessarily shown and given new words like 'flood jihad'. This is a term which we have never heard before."
"Silchar is a peaceful place and people of different communities have been living here since many years. There is no deliberate attempt by any community to injure another community. This incident is an act of god."
We also came across this report by Hindustan Times published on July 7, 2022, which quoted CM Sarma as saying, "It is not a big deal. There is no need to use words like jihad. A few people with small brains did that."
In our Fact Check, we found that the issue of embankments in Assam is a pervasive one which has troubled the residents for many years. The particular embankment was breached by residents to form a canal that to create an outlet for the accumulated water from their homes into the Barak River.
They were compelled to do so due to what they alleged as the indifference of the local administration. This incident was portrayed as an act of sabotage by media outlets placing the blame on persons from the Muslim community. Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma and Cachar SP Ramandeep Kaur have clarified that the term 'flood jihad' is baseless. SP Kaur has assured of action against those spreading rumors of a 'flood jihad' on social media. Thus, we can conclude that media outlets and netizens portrayed an incident with several complexities through a misleading communal angle.
Alt News have done this story in detail first.
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