On Monday, January 8, the brother of Hindu activist Bittu Bajrangi, Mahesh Panchal, passed away at AIIMS Delhi, after battling for his life for over a month. The incident unfolded in Dabua Colony, Faridabad, Haryana, where assailants attacked Panchal, pouring thinner on him and setting him on fire on December 13 of the previous year.
Mahesh Panchal was swiftly taken to the hospital in critical condition, having sustained severe burn injuries estimated to be around 60 per cent. The attackers, reportedly confirming his identity as Bittu Bajrangi’s brother, asked him the question, “Are you Bittu Bajrangi’s brother?” Upon his affirmative response, they subjected him to the brutal assault. Mahesh managed to douse the flames by jumping into a drain and later walked to his house, where Bittu Bajrangi took him to the hospital.
Bajrangi, who heads the Goarakshak Bajrang Force, said his brother was targeted by some miscreants, and he had also given the name of one suspect, Arman, to the police. Bajrangi had said the incident was linked with the violence in Haryana’s Nuh last year.
While Mahesh Panchal fought for his life, leftist media outlets and individuals, including journalist Abbas Abdi, peddled what has been claimed as false information about the assault. A week after the incident, the Hindustan Times published an article alleging that Mahesh had faked the assault, citing Faridabad police. The report sparked similar narratives in other media outlets, including The Wire and ThePrint.
‘Fact-checking’ website Alt News’ co-founder Mohammed Zubair widely shared and propagated the claims. Despite police officials refuting the Hindustan Times report, Zubair continued to disseminate the information on social media without verifying the accuracy of the police statement.
In response to the controversy, ACP Faridabad clarified that no evidence had been found against the accused so far, but this did not deem the case fake. He affirmed that Mahesh Panchal had suffered burns, and the investigation was ongoing to determine the circumstances of the attack.
President of Gau Raksha Bajrang Force, Bittu Bajrangi, released a video accusing Mohammed Zubair and Hindustan Times of peddling a false narrative against his brother. Bajrangi vowed to take legal action against those spreading misinformation.
#वामपंथी मोहम्मद जुबेर ने जो हिंदुस्तान टाइम्स का पत्रकार है वह बिगर जांच परख के मेरे बारे में फालतू बातें छाप कर गलत खबरें वह गलत अफवाह फैला रहा है उसके खिलाफ फरीदाबाद पुलिस में जल्द मुकदमा दर्ज कराऊंगा pic.twitter.com/IqaDHJQ47l
— Bittu Bajrangi (@bittubajrangi34) December 24, 2023
Mahesh Panchal’s death has reignited the debate over the authenticity of the assault, with questions raised about the motives behind spreading false narratives. The emotional and physical trauma endured by Panchal during his month-long struggle seems to have been overshadowed by the clash between media outlets and individuals propagating conflicting accounts of the incident.