Fake News About ‘Human Sacrifices’ for the Padma Bridge Leads to Violence in Bangladesh
Spreading these rumors is a criminal offense in Bangladesh.
The completion of a 6.1km long bridge across the Padma River, which will link the southwest region of Bangladesh to the northern and eastern regions, is projected for December 2020. Many are hoping that the new Padma Bridge will change the economic landscape of southwestern Bangladesh.
Fake news around human sacrifices causes a stir
Fake rumors that claimed the Padma Bridge needed “human heads” for its completion spread quickly on social media:
বাঙালির নতুন গুজবের আমদানী হয়েছে>>>>
কিছুদিন ধরে কিছু গাজাঁখোর মিথ্যুক প্রচার করতেছে – পদ্মা সেতুতে নাকি ১ লক্ষাধিক মানুষের মাথা লাগবে বলে গুজব ছড়াচ্ছে। এটি সম্পূর্ণ অসত্য বানোয়াট গাঁজাখোরী কাহিনী। এসব মিথ্যাচারে কেউ কান দিবেন না– pic.twitter.com/tyTbw16JnS
— ❣️ Mr. MD-S A I F..????????????⚽️ (@S_Alam1999) July 9, 2019
There is a new rumor in town. Some stoned people are spreading lies that 100,000 human heads are required to complete the Padma bridge. This is a lie and is completely baseless. Don’t pay heed to these rumors.
The rumors have already turned deadly. There have been reports of two deaths in Mohammadpur area of Dhaka and in Ashuganj, Bramhonbaria after mobs suspected them of snatching children as sacrifices for the construction of the bridge. In a few other cases, suspected child snatchers were beaten up in other parts of the country. In a statement to the press the Police super of Laxmipur district told:
Those who were beaten up and we have held for the allegation of child-snatching, are either mental-patient or homeless persons. The “child-snatching” claim is just a rumor.
According to Section 25 of the Digital Security Act 2018, a person may face up to three years in jail or BDT 300,000 (USD 3,550) in fines or both for spreading rumors in electronic form. So far, eight people have been detained across Bangladesh for spreading these rumors on Facebook.
An old rumor revisited
Allegedly, some are basing these rumors on a 2015 article which says that workers from the Chinese construction company contracted to build the bridge sacrificed animals (goats and cows) in the initial phases of the project. According to the Chinese worker’s belief, animal sacrifices can please God and serious accidents can be averted. Some are sharing the images of the animal sacrifice as the blood of humans and stories of beheading small children for the bridge.
Versions of this kind of story are nothing new in Bangladesh. There is an old myth that human heads are needed as a sacrifice during any major construction. Facebook user HR Sanvi Ahmed remembers a similar rumor from his childhood during the construction of the Kanchpur Bridge during the late 1970s:
I was a school student then. My friends used to discuss the under construction Kanchpur Bridge. Allegedly human bones were required to make the joints of the bridge strong. At least 500 human bones were required for a bridge this big. Human children were being targeted and claims were being sent to the schools. Our school also received such a letter. The teachers are sending 1 or 2 children to the Bridge construction workers. We were pretty worried and scared. If we were also sent. We could not sleep at night. So many worries in our little heads!
Similar rumors surfaced during the construction of the Shah Amanat Bridge over the Karnaphuli river in Chittagong in 2010.
Human sacrifices appear in ancient Hindu mythology. In many ancient texts, it was said that human heads were severed to please the demons before erecting a bridge over a mountain stream. Five thousand years ago Narboli (human sacrifice) was practiced among the Pundra civilization to please the Goddess of agriculture.
In an interview with the BBC, Susmita Chakrabarti, the professor of the Folklore Department of Rajshahi University pointed towards the myths.
People are used to these myths carried down from generations to generations. So they fall for such rumors without verifying, even if in this age of technology.
As the Bangladeshi government tries to contain the spread of this story, it has saidthat they will take stern action against those who are sharing the rumors:
পদ্মা সেতু তৈরিতে মাথা প্রয়োজন এমন গুজব ছড়ানো ব্যাক্তিদের তথ্য দিয়ে এদের ধরিয়ে দিন।
যারা গুজব ছড়িয়েছে তাদেরকে গ্রেপ্তার করা শুরু হয়েছে.. pic.twitter.com/GeFjszSk2u
— Rayahan Habib Khan (@rayahan_habib) July 9, 2019
Please beware of the people who are sharing the rumor that human heads are needed for the Padma Bridge. Police are arresting them already.
The Bridge authority published a statement on 9 July 2019 which rejected the sacrifice rumors and claimed they were spread by “vested quarters”, asking the public to ignore such a baseless story.
This article was originally published on Global Voices and has been republished under the Creative Commons license.