As If the Public Killing of a Cow Wasn't Gory Enough, Here Comes a Fake Photo

The mindless 'protest' by Youth Congress members has been widely condemned but a photo being circulated by a BJP leader of slaughtered cows is old and of uncertain origin.

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government on Friday, May 26, made public new restrictions on the sale and purchase of cattle in animal markets for the purpose of slaughter. The controversial decision  has many debating whether it will hurt India’s export and trade of meat and leather, as well as deal a blow to India farmers.

After the Centre’s announcement, several ‘beef festivals’ and other forms of protest have been organised. On Saturday, however, members of the Youth Congress in Kannur, Kerala generated widespread outrage – including within their own party’s national leadership – by choosing a particularly impolitic method of protest: they slaughtered a cow in a public park. In a video that they themselves shot, the activists can be seen raising slogans against Modi even as they left the slaughtered cow in a pool of blood.

Outrage ensues 

In response to this shocking – and illegal – form of  protest, a case has been registered against Youth Congress leader Rijil Makkutty and others under under section 120A of the Kerala Police Act, the Times of India reported, after a complaint was lodged by BJP Yuva Morcha district general secretary C.C. Ratheesh. Section 120A deals with the slaughter of an animal in a manner that “may be annoying or cause inconvenience to the public”.

Though cow slaughter is legal in Kerala, as it is in West Bengal and most of the North-East, and beef is widely consumed there, the public act of killing has been widely condemned. “It is a thoughtless act and it will only help Sangh Parivar outfits. It is sad that Youth Congress activists stooped so low for publicity,” CPI(M) member of Parliament MB Rajesh told the Indian Express. The incident drew vehement condemnations from BJP party members and from Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. Kummanam Rajasekharan, the Kerala BJP president, uploaded the video of the public slaughtering, calling it an act of  “public cruelty”. 

Other BJP leaders have also been vocal in their criticism of the whole affair. While Kummanam’s tweet and video have received wide traction on social media, another Facebook post by a senior BJP member has gone viral. K. Surendran, one of the general secretaries of the BJP in Kerala, updated his Facebook status in response to the Kannur incident, showing a row of slaughtered cows lying on a street.

Translated roughly, Surendran’s post says that the government needs to take steps to stop left-wing activists from conducting beef festivals. He claims that the slaughter of cattle in public leads to the arousal of fear and disgust in the minds of citizens and is also against the law. Moreover, according to him, this is done to incite hatred and he says that government officials need to stay away from such protests. At the end, in what appears to be a subtle threat, he asks the organisers of such disgusting protests to reconsider and tells them to avoid making the national party react to them in kind.

The photo is a fake

The post has over 1,500 shares and 4.8k reactions. One would assume that the photo Surendran posted alongside the text was of the Kannur incident. But it is not.

The Wire traced the photo and found that it is one that has been used widely and for a long time. While the origin of the photo could not be located, a simple Google search for the image showed that the earliest date that the photo was used is December 5, 2011, by an obscure Hindutva website called forumforhinduawakening.org. There is no attribution for the photo.

The photo has been used frequently after that, with widespread use throughout 2012-2017. On the unending list, many of the articles that use the photo are anti-cow slaughter rants, carried by Hindutva-oriented websites like chakranews, Hindu Jagruti Samiti, dailyvedas and so on. Bharata Bharati used it in August 2016 in an anti-cow slaughter article while indiatimes, a portal run by the Times of India group, used it in an article dating back to July 2015 titled ‘The Condition of Hindus in Pakistan’. The list goes on and on. It is interesting that none of these websites ever attribute the photo source.

In addition, several YouTube videos also use this image.

The use of the image is not even restricted to India. Further searches show the image being used by a Polish website in November 2012, in an article about cow slaughter, as well as a Swedish website called FriaTider in October 2012. Interestingly, while the Polish article credits the photo to OTOZ Animals, the Swedish website provides the attribution ‘Nur Nussbaum CC-BY’. Further searches for the source of the image did not reveal anything definitive.

But it does seems that this is the first and easiest pick for any article talking about the evils of cow slaughter.

In fact, that is almost true. A Google Images search with the keywords ‘cow slaughter’ pops up the image not just on the first page but within the first ten results returned.

It looks like Surendran wrote his angry post and then used the first suitable bloody image that caught his eye on Google. While he has not explicitly claimed that the photo depicts the incident in question, that’s what anyone seeing the post would assume. Unsuspecting readers and supporters have possibly not bothered to verify the image source either, and assume it to be from the same incident. But a scrutiny of the photo reveals in the background a shop called “Shahnoor Agencies”, written in English. Below that is the same name, written in Bengali.

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to guess that a photo taken in Kannur is highly unlikely to have shops with signs in Bengali. Further tracing is needed but it is likely the store, and street, are in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where the slaughter of cows on the streets takes place every Eid, sometimes leading, in the words of the Dhaka Tribune, to a “strange and disturbing scene.”

So not only is the photo old and fake in the Kerala context, it’s also probably from a different country.

Why, then, has it been used repeatedly for almost six years? Because no one has bothered to check its provenance. And a bloody, pathetic photo of dead cows – passed off as an event that happened recently in one’s own backyard – is most likely to evoke an angry response. Which is what politicians everywhere thrive on.