A video has been shared thousands of times on social media that shows men and women taking hammers to a long row of solar panels, climbing on top of them and smashing the glass. Those sharing the video say that Indian people are destroying the panels because they think they upset their gods – but the truth is a lot more mundane.
The video first began to circulate in India in February and in June began to be shared anew, this time reaching a more international audience.
As often happens with fake news, the message accompanying the video altered over time.
It was initially shared on February 19 by Twitter user Gaurav Pradhan, a supporter of the country’s right-wing ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He referred to undisclosed “sources”, and said that the people smashing the panels were an “anti-Modi gang” trying to sabotage the prime minister’s ambitious renewable energy plans for the country.
In a post published on March 28 or 29 (the post has since been deleted), an Indian Facebook user and supporter of the left-wing Aam Aadmi Party claims that Ashok Saxena, an Indian MP from the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (the country’s ruling party), told Indian citizens that if they used solar panels it would anger “the Sun God”.
On June 1, the video was posted yet again on Facebook – this time by a user in the United States. Its caption says that the World Bank donated these solar panels to an Indian village, and after a Hindu priest told villagers that the panels were “fighting with their gods”, the villagers chose to destroy them. This particular video has racked up over 85,000 shares and been viewed over five million times.
An angered Sun God?
The “Sun God” post from March can be swiftly discounted: there is no BJP MP called Ashok Saxena.
There’s also no evidence that these solar panels were donated by the World Bank. This particular solar plant, which is located in Chalisgaon in the state of Maharashtra, had previously been in the news because agricultural land was destroyed to make way for the plant.
An example of one of the appearances on YouTube of this video. It has been shared repeatedly over the course of four months on social media and YouTube, with varying captions and claims.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made providing electricity access to every village in the country a key promise in his 2014 election campaign, and Indian media reported that in April this year the country achieved that goal. A village is considered electrified if the basic infrastructure to do so has been installed and at least 10% of houses are electrified. As part of the country’s solar plan, the government is investing heavily in renewable energy and rolling out a new ambitious target of reaching a capacity of 227 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022 – which would make it the third biggest user of renewable energy in the world.
So what is it really about?
Climate Samurai, a website about climate change and the use of renewable energy, wrote a blog post about the incident and posted the video on its YouTube channel in mid-February with the title: “Solar Modules at 100 Mw solar plant in Maharashtra destroyed due to non payment of wages”. Climate Samurai reported that it was not able to get in touch with the solar plant’s contractor. Apparently the workers who had built the solar plant didn’t receive their wages, and so in an act of retaliation they smashed the panels – nothing to do with religion or politics.