VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Old photos of Hindu festival used in MISLEADING FB posts on India’s COVID-19 surge

Several Facebook (FB) posts supposedly showing people attending a massive festival in India before the country registered the world’s fastest-growing COVID-19 surge this year are misleading. The posts mixed recent images with old photos taken way before the pandemic hit the globe.

The posts were published from April 29 to May 2 by at least four Filipino netizens and the FB page OFW Bayaning Pilipino, and stated that the crowd images show the Kumbh Mela, a major Hindu pilgrimage and festival held last April.

The photo sets carried 12 images: seven showing huge flocks of people, and five of corpses being cremated. Two of the posts carried an extra image showing a line of oxygen tanks.

However, four of the crowd photos were not taken during this year’s Kumbh Mela. Three were shot during the 2019 Kumbh Mela in the city of Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh. It could be found in a February 2019 report by public broadcaster DD News, a January 2019 story by Gulf News, and a handout photo used by Agence France-Presse also that January.

Another image, which shows people taking a dip in a river, was taken six years ago in September 2015 when the event was held in Nashik city, Maharashtra.

Meanwhile, a photo of a person wearing personal protective equipment while walking in front of a funeral pyre was taken by a Reuters photographer in July last year in New Delhi.

India’s Kumbh Mela, or festival of the sacred Pitcher, is “the largest peaceful congregation of pilgrims on earth” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which regards the religious festival as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

According to information about the festival, the location where the pilgrimage is held depends on the position of the Sun, the Moon, and the planet Jupiter. For this year, the city of Haridwar in Uttarakhand hosted the event.

The festival pushed through in April despite a brewing second surge of COVID-19 cases in the country. Protocols put in place ended up being violated by the massive crowds of people who showed up.

Currently, only the United States surpasses India in the number of recorded COVID-19 cases. As of May 7, India has reported over 21.5 million COVID-19 cases, with 234,000 deaths. The US has more than 580,000 deaths out of 32.6 million cases.

The misleading FB posts started circulating among Filipino netizens three days after Malacañang imposed a travel ban on individuals travelling from India between April 29 and May 14.

The five posts have collectively been shared more than 10,500 times.

(Editor’s Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)