How #BoycottChhapaak Was Used to Spread Falsehood on Deepika Padukone's Film

A large section of them was anonymous users followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many were BJP office-bearers.

On the eve of January 7, Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone visited Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), expressing solidarity with the students injured in the JNU attack of January 5. A section of individuals on social media criticised the actor, terming her move a publicity stunt for her latest release, Chhapaak, a film inspired by the life story of acid attack survivor Laxmi Aggarwal.

Soon after, #BoycottChhapaak started trending with the claim that the film gave Aggarwal’s perpetrator, Naeem Khan, a Hindu identity. On January 8, Alt News reported that the allegation was false.

A disturbing trend emerged when we analysed several of the Twitter accounts that put out the said misinformation. A large section of them was anonymous users followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with BJP office-bearers. Alt News found over 80 Twitter users followed by PM Modi who shared targeted misinformation about Chhapaak.

BJP leaders/ office-bearers

On January 8, the official Twitter account of BJP Jammu and Kashmir tweeted (archive link) that the party’s state president seeks an apology from Deepika Padukone for “backstabbing” the nation for standing with “tukde tukde gang”.

BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy tweeted (archive link) that the “name change” amounts to defamation if found to be true.

BJP member Nandita Thakur tweeted (archive link), “If Its based on real story why change Name of the villain of the real story ?? Basheer Khan is also not acceptable.”

Jawahar Yadav, the head of publicity at BJP Haryana, also tweeted (archive link) the trending misinformation. Piyush Fofandi, former zonal head at BJP Samvad Cell (as per his old Twitter bio which was later edited) posted (archive link) an image which said ‘Boycott Chhapaak’ and wrote, “The name of the person who did the acid attack was Nadeem but in the film it’s Rajesh. This mindset is behind to discrediting the Hindu. #boycottchhapaak”

[Translated from: एसिड अटैक में घायल लड़की पर तेजाब फैंकने बाला #नदीम नाम का लड़का था पर फिल्म में राजेश रखा है ।ये है उनकी मानसिकता हिन्दू को बदनाम करने की । #बॉयकॉट_छपाक  #boycottchhapaak]”

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Similarly, Priyanka Sharma (archive link), a member of BJYM Howrah (as per Twitter bio) and Satish Maisuriya (archive link), Vice President Of Bhartiya Janta Party Yuva Morcho, Surat (as per bio) also tweeted misinformation about ‘Chhapaak.’

Prominent RW handles

On January 8, Prasanna Viswanathan, CEO of Swarajyamag, tweeted (archive link),The Ways Of Bollywood: In Deepika Padukone-Starer Chhapaak, Acid Attacker Naeem Khan Said To Have Become ‘Rajesh’” along with a link to an article on his publication. This was also tweeted (archive link) by Impreet Singh Bakshi, the National Secretary of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM).

OpIndia’s Nupur Sharma tweeted, “If secularism means changing “Nadeem” to “Rajesh”, set secularism on fire.” Sharma has deleted the tweet, a screenshot is attached below. Similarly, Abhishek Banerjee who writes for OpIndia said in a tweet (archive link), “Liberals be like : When CAA is passed : We will all report ourselves as belonging to ‘secular’ religion to show solidarity. When Naeem throws acid on Laxmi’s face : Change the offender’s name to Rajesh.”

The editor-in-chief of Goa Chronicle Savio Rodrigues tweeted (archive link), “If Nadeem threw acid on the brave girl portrayed in the movie #Chhapaak in real life and it is a true story; then what happened you got scared of the Islamic radicals @deepikapadukone and named the culprit Rajesh because it easy to insult Hindus.”

Shefali Vaidya, columnist and BJP supporter, tweeted (archive link), “Waise why is the perpetrator who threw acid is called ‘Rajesh Sharma’ in that movie instead of Nadeem Khan, who was the REAL culprit who threw acid on Lakshmi Agarwal?”

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Twitter user Gaurav Pradhan posted, “Laxmi Agarwal faced a brutal Acid attacked in 2005 in New Delhi by Nadeem Khan as she refused to marry him Question : Why in film @deepikapadukone changed the name “Nadeem Khan” to Hindu name “Rajesh”? Shameless Hindus will still watch film and clap.” Pradhan is a familiar name in the misinformation ecosystem. In 2018, Alt News published a report documenting the several instances of misinformation put out by him. Pradhan’s account was recently suspended by Twitter.


@RitaG74, former presenter at All India Radio (as per Twitter bio), tweeted (archive link), “Laxmi Aggarwal-A 15 year old school going girl in Delhi. Wanted to be a singer. 32 year old Nadeem Khan approached her for marriage. She rejected. Angry Nadeem Khan threw acid on her face. Laxmi’s story attracted Bollywood. Nadeem’s name changed to Rajesh #NameItLikeBolllywood”

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Makarand R Paranjape, the director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, quote-tweeted Shefali Vaidya and said, “The politics of naming in Bollywood is insidious, if not viciously anti-Hindu. But will @deepikapadukone speak out against it? Paranjape later deleted this tweet. Another account @TruelyMoica (archive link) also put out misinformation. 

Anonymous users

Several accounts that spread misinformation about the film were anonymous. The followers of these users range from a few hundred to several thousand, however together their reach is significant.

Twitter user @erbmjha, who has shared misinformation in the past, said (archive link), “1. Article 15 They turn the accused into BRAHMINS 2. Padmavat They hurt their cultural sentiments related to the respectable Rani Padmini 3. Chhapaak They changed Acid attackers name from “Nadeem” to “Rajesh” Bollywood to defame Hindus has to end.”

@Lala_The_Don tweeted (archive link), “A friend of mine who works in Bollywood told me that #Chappak dialogues are getting changed overnight and Rajesh will be renamed to Bashir before release. This is people’s power. We won! People won! Jai Hind.” This retweeted at least 1,400 times. @Lala_The_Don regularly shares posts by Political Kida, a platform that has been featured on Alt News several times for misinformation and propaganda favouring the BJP.

Similarly, @HDL_Global, in which HDL stands for Hindu Defense League, tweeted (archive link), “We won’t say boycott @deepikapadukone for her solidarity with anti Hindu brigade but #BoycottChapak for they changed the character of Nadeem to Rajesh just to defame Hindus and have no spine to stand against Islamists,” on January 8. The account regularly shared provocative tweets.

The entire list of 84 individuals along with the archived links of their tweets can be viewed below or in a PDF file here.

Liberal voices critical of the ruling party are frequently targeted by the supporters of the BJP on various social media platforms. This takes different forms like online abuse, misinformation campaigns and calls for a mass boycott of products.

In the past, Alt News has documented such targeted online attacks. Similarly, the spread of misinformation about Chhapaak, aimed at sabotaging its commercial prospects was triggered by actor Deepika Padukone’s support to JNU.

In this case, Alt News found a disturbing pattern – a large number of individuals who indulged in spreading misinformation were followed by PM Modi on Twitter. In 2017, Alt News published a report, documenting the toxic online behaviour of accounts followed by the Prime Minister.

Many of them indulge in online abuse and often spread misinformation of communal nature, targeting political opponents. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister continues to follow them despite this being brought to his attention.

This article first appeared on Alt News. Read the original here.