Nearly 300 people were killed and over a thousand injured in a horrific train accident in Odisha’s Balasore district on Friday, June 2. According to information available at the moment, the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express hit a stationary iron ore-laden goods train a little before 7 pm on Friday, and ten to 12 Coromandel coaches got derailed and fell over on another track.
The Bengal-bound Bengaluru-Howrah Superfast Express, plying on that line, subsequently collided with those fallen coaches, derailing three to four of its own coaches.
The accident took place near the Bahanaga Bazar railway station on the Kharagpur-Puri line under the Kharagpur railway division of the South Eastern Railway zone.
In the days following the accident, even as the railways started an inquiry to find out the exact cause of the mishap, several theories surfaced in media and public discourse. Some social media users claimed that the station master of the Bahanaga Bazar railway station, a certain Sharif, was absconding since the accident.
Vivek Pandey (@vivekpandeyvns_), a Twitter Blue subscriber and the ‘chief of Rashtravadi Hindu Mahasabha‘ according to his bio, said in a now-deleted tweet, “Name Sharif. Post – Station Master. At present, is absconding since the order of investigation. From now on one needs to check the name before offering a job. #Balasore”. (Archive)
Another Twitter Blue user, @Manv1994, whose bio says that he is the BJP IT chief in the Khair assembly constituency, tweeted something similar on June 4 and also added an image of the supposed station master, Sharif: “Heard that the station master named ‘Sharif’ has gone missing after the inquiry was ordered? This is the problem with this community. #BalasoreTrainAccident #TrainAccident.” (Archive)
— मानवेन्द्र सिंह (@Manv1994) June 4, 2023
Another user, 🚩योगीआदित्यनाथफैन(डिजिटल योद्धा)गोडसे का भक्त 🕉 (@maheshyagyasain), also shared a tweet with the similar claim that the station master, Sharif, is absconding since the mishap. He went on to claim that the accident was made to happen by station master Sharif.
स्टेशन मास्टर शरीफ 3 ट्रेन की दुर्घटना के बाद गायब लूप लाइन पर एक मालगाड़ी खड़ी थी कोरोमण्डल एक्सप्रेस को थ्रू पास का सिग्नल दिया गया था फिर सिग्नल कैंसिल किया गया एक ऐसा सवाल जो पूरा राष्ट्र जानना चाहेगा कि चलो सिग्नल कैंसिल किया पर ट्रेन लूप लाइन पर कैसे गई जब लूप लाइन पर पहले…
— 🚩योगीआदित्यनाथफैन(डिजिटल योद्धा)गोडसे का भक्त 🕉 (@maheshyagyasain) June 4, 2023
As can be seen above, several users connected the ‘station master Sharif’ theory with the supposed mosque near the tracks. The photo, where the white building has been pointed at with an arrow, was viral separately as well with the suggestion that it was a mosque and that it ‘proved’ the role of Muslims behind the accident. Alt News has already debunked this. The building is actually an ISKCON temple.
With the help of a journalist who covered the accident from the ground, we accessed a photograph of a board hung outside the station master’s room displaying the names of Bahanaga Bazar railway station staff.
There was no one named Sharif.
A keyword search led us to a report by Kalinga TV, an Odia-language news outlet, published on June 3. The headline said, “Odisha train accident: Bahanaga Assistant Station Master is on the run, case registered”. The report further mentioned that “according to reports, Bahanaga Assistant Station Master S.B. Mohanty, who was on duty, fled from the spot after the train accident took place.”
Then on June 5, Kalinga TV published another report with the headline: “Odisha Train Accident: Interrogation of Bahanaga Station Master underway.” The report mentioned that Mohanty was being interrogated by the railway safety commissioner team regarding the train accident on June 2.
We contacted two senior IPS officers from Odisha who confirmed to us that none of the station staff were absconding and police were in touch with them. One of them said there was no one named ‘Sharif’ among the station staff. Another one said, “All the station staff are available. They are attending inquiries at different levels/places.”
Further, we reached out to a senior Bhubaneswar-based journalist with a national English daily who covered the accident. He said on Monday, “All of this is a rumour. He is not absconding and is cooperating with the authorities in the investigation. Mohanty travelled to Khordha late last night to join the probe.”
Railways public relations officer Nihar Mohanty too confirmed to Alt News that S B Mohanty was not absconding.
To check the authenticity of the image used by @Manv1994 in his tweet, we ran a reverse image search, which led us to a website: vikaschander.com. We found the image in a blog post published on the website on March 2004. The title said: “Kottavalasa Kirandul KK Line”. We found more such railway blog posts on the website.
We came across Vikas Chander’s Facebook profile, where his bio said that he is a digital creator and also had the above website link attached.
The man whose photo has been used in the viral posts is identified as the station master of Borra Guhalu railway station in the blog.
Thus, the claims that the Balasore railway station master named Sharif is absconding are false. The Bahanaga Bazar station master’s name is S.B. Mohanty. There was an initial report that Mohanty was missing for some time after the accident, but we can confirm that he is available and cooperating with the investigation.
It is worth noting that several social media users have made attempts to add a communal twist to the Odisha tragedy, one of the deadliest train accidents in India. In a tweet on June 4, Odisha Police said severe action would be taken against those who were trying to create communal disharmony by spreading rumours.
It has come to notice that some social media handles are mischievously giving communal colour to the tragic train accident at Balasore. This is highly unfortunate.
Investigation by the GRP, Odisha into the cause and all other aspects of the accident is going on.
— Odisha Police (@odisha_police) June 4, 2023
This article was originally published on Alt News. We have lightly edited it for style.