“I get at least ten calls in a day from people abusing me and the school, wanting to know the name of the teacher who beat the students,” said Bijal Patel, principal of the RMVM Desai Vidyadham School in Valsad, a bustling coastal town in Gujarat. “When I tell them the videos are fake and not from our school they refuse to believe it.”
While other schools are planning a new semester, Patel continued to be plagued by a problem that has gone on two years too long. Since 2017, the school has been relentlessly targeted by disinformation on the internet, tarnishing its reputation among parents and resulting in fewer students seeking admission.
A search for the words “RMVM school” online does not show results about the school’s facilities or achievements, but instead horrific videos of child abuse.
The catch? Not a single video is from the school.
They are instead, videos from Syria, Egypt, China, Thailand and Turkey amongst others.
Patel, firefighting a constant stream of negative publicity over two years now, says she does not know how to deal with the problem anymore.
The first video
RMVM School first woke up to the problem in 2017 when a video from Egypt of a manager at an orphanage caning young children, went viral with a false claim that it had happened on their premises.
“I had panicked parents calling me, journalists wanting quotes and messages, asking me why I was letting such an incident happen at my school,” Patel said. “By the time I reached school, the school staff had been fielding calls from as far as UK and USA, and from strangers who were enraged at the video.”
Patel did the most logical thing she could think of – filed an FIR.
“I thought that would solve the problem,” she said. “But it did not.” Instead, the principal was kept hanging by the police. The cyber police eventually informed her that since the videos were on WhatsApp, they could do nothing about it.
“My heart sank,” said Patel. “How could I explain to each and every person that the video was not from my school?” She hoped this would be a one-time incident, but it was only the beginning.
FIRs, Letters, Complaints
Since that first instance, every time a video of a child being beaten goes viral, Patel prepares herself. “After my first FIR, I have filed nearly ten written complaints with the local police,” she said. “One complaint for each video.”
But that hasn’t helped. Her letters to Gujarat’s education department, the Central government and the state’s chief minister have also resulted in little progress. “Every admission season, I am armed with news clippings, complaint copies, FIRs and letters to officials,” said Patel. “Parents want to know about these videos and as a reply I show them the documents. Some parents believe me, but most don’t.”
RMVM School Principal Bijal Patel’s helplessness is real. Boom found 28 complaints listed against her school on a private online complaint forum where posts talk about the alleged “brutality of RMVM school teachers”.
The school now has a Google user rating of 1.6. Nearly all 44 reviews on the platform talk about a video “of an RMVM school teacher beating up a student”.
As a result, new admissions to the school have been steadily decreasing over the last two years. “I cannot give you the numbers but classrooms have been getting emptier every year,” Patel said. “In fact, new teachers refuse to join.”
Other members of staff at the school are unable to make sense of these fake videos. “Why our school?” they asked. “There are so many schools in Valsad, but why is only our school a victim of something so absurd?”
Origin of the videos
Since 2017, several videos of child abuse have been shared on social media with almost the same Hindi phrase, a translation of which is, “Not a single contact or group on your WhatsApp list should be spared. Send this video to everybody. He is a teacher from RMVM school in Valsad. Share it to such an extent that the teacher is dismissed and the school shut down. A viral video could lead to an investigation into the incident.”
But Boom’s investigating into the videos linked to the school has proved that not a single one can be traced back to it. Many are not even from India. Yet accompanying text on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube falsely implicate the school.
Boom fact-checked all the videos attributed to RMVM School and found their original source.
- A disturbing video of an orphanage manager thrashing young kids was shared as having originated from RMVM school. Boom ascertained that it was a 2014 incident from Egypt.
- A video of the kidnapping and torture of a nine-year-old boy by members of the Free Syrian Army was falsely propagated as proof of an RMVM teacher beating a student at the school. Read Boom’s fact-check here.
- A video of a Delhi policeman’s son brutally assaulting a woman in an office went viral next, with claims that the man was a teacher at RMVM school, Valsad. Read Boom’s fact check here.
- A video circulated as from the school, of a woman sexually abusing a child with a stick, was found by Boom to be from Turkey, Istanbul.
- A horrifying video of a man brutally thrashing a 10-year-old was found to be from Karnataka, and not of a teacher at RMVM school beating a student.
- A video of a man from Thailand, kicking his five-year-old son went viral, as well, with the same claims that the man was a teacher st RMVM School, Gujarat.
- A graphic video of a man roasting a live puppy was falsely attributed to the RMVM school.
- The video of a priest in Chhattisgarh molesting a minor on the pretext of performing an exorcism was also circulated as a teacher at RMVM beating one of their students.
- Lastly, a disturbing video from Prayagraj, of a teacher from Rudraprayag Vidya Mandir school beating students was written off as from RMVM School. Read Boom’s fact-check here.
This story first appeared on Boomlive.in