Old photo being circulated as that of recent Chepang settlement fire

South Asia Check / July 30, 2020

.     A collage of social media posts that shared an old photo claiming it to be of an act of arson in a Chepang settlement by Chitwan park officials.

By Deepak Adhikari

On July 18, officials of the Chitwan National Park destroyed homes of indigenous Chepang community in Kusum Khola village of Madi Municipality-9 in Chitwan district. According to a news report, the park authorities have accused the Chepangs of illegally settling in the park’s territory. Two homes were set on fire and eight others were torn down, according to another report.

The incident drew widespread condemnation. At the meeting of the parliamentary committee on Law and Human Rights, Minister for Forests Shakti Basnet said the park officials had set fire to an animal shed and not to any home. His statement generated strong criticism on social media. Two days after the incident, a photo purportedly showing a raging fire destroying Chepang homes were widely circulated on social media.

A few news websites also published the photo, which was circulating mainly on Facebook and Twitter, along with news of the fire at the Chepang settlement.

Former journalist Padam Gautam tweeted the photo mentioning British author George Orwell’s classic ‘Animal Farm‘. Similarly, Keshab Dahal, a writer and politician with more than 6,000 followers on Twitter, shared the photo along with another photo showing a blaze, with these words: “How do you achieve socialism when you burn down the homes of the poor?”

On the same day, a Twitter handle ‘CutysamjaNa’, which has more than 60,000 followers, shared four photos purportedly showing a fire devouring Chepang homes. The Twitter user wrote: “They used to say communists are a party of the proletariat. But in Madi of Chitwan, during this rainy season homes of the landless and Chepangs were set on fire. Perhaps after this, communism will come true. What to say about this government, KP (KP Sharma Oli) or PK (Pushpa Kamal Dahal)? Is there any term in the Nepali lexicon to describe them?” The tweet has received 8 retweets and comments and 61 likes. A news website called Safal Khabar also published the photo claiming it was of the Madi fire.

Fact check

South Asia Check searched for this image using the reverse image search tools of Google, Yandex and Tineye, among others. A charity organization called Awana had published the photo in March 2011 on its website with the caption: “Fire Breaks Out in Bhutanese Refugee Camp in Nepal!” Global Post Info, a news site that publishes news about Bhutanese refugees, also published the photo in an article about the 10th anniversary of a devastating fire in the Goldhap refugee camp of Jhapa district.

South Asia Check spoke to a few Bhutanese refugees who said the photo could be of one of the fire incidents in the camp, but they couldn’t ascertain the date and the place of the incident (After their resettlement in the Western countries including the United States began in 2008, tens of thousands of refugees have left their camps, with the seven refugee camps now reduced to just two). While fire breaks out every year in the densely populated refugee camps, we couldn’t zero on in the year and the camp in the purported photograph.

The photo has also been used by a Hindi newspaper on its website. On January 13, 2016, Patrika, a Jaipur-based newspaper, used the photo with a news article about a fire that destroyed a poor man’s home.

Swadesh FM, a Madi-based FM radio, had first shared the photo on July 19 on its Facebook page as a “symbolic image”. The same photo was also shared by social media users including ‘CutysamjaNa’.

This photo, which we can say is several years old, has misled people into believing that it was of the fire in the Chepang settlement of Chitwan on July 18.

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