Media goes on a feeding frenzy calling Indian an “ordinary hero”

His name was Rajinder Singh. He was a 33-year-old Sikh living in a Paris suburb and in France, his friends called him Babu. On September 29, Babu was electrocuted after he fell on the rails in the Paris metro following a fight with an Egyptian sweet-seller.

Word of Babu's death spread like wildfire. He had tried to stop the Egyptian from importunating some women passengers to whom he was trying, in an annoyingly insistent way, to sell some sweets. The first version said Babu took exception to what he saw as a harassment of women and objected. The second version said the Egyptian was trying to steal a passenger's mobile telephone and Babu objected. Whatever the truth of the matter, when the Egyptian got off line 7 of the Paris metro at a stop called Cirmee (named after the Crimean war), Babu and his friends — there were five Indians in all, got off with him. A fight ensued. The Egyptian pushed Babu who staggered back, fell on the rails and died of electrocution. This version was given to the police by Babu's Indian friends.

The French media went on a feeding frenzy (as did the media in India), calling Babu an “ordinary hero”. Two Ministers, Thierry Mariani (Transport) and Frederic Mitterrand (Culture), rushed to the scene to lay wreaths at the spot where Babu fell. “It was a selfless act of courage which I would like to salute,” said Mitterrand shedding a tear or two.

Mr. Mariani called Babu “an ordinary hero” and ordered the French underground rail network to pay for the repatriation of his body. “He gave his life. He was a hard worker, sending money home every month. His family, on top of the loss of their son should not have to pay for repatriating the body.” The Chairman of the Metro said that naturally, his company would bear the cost. Citizens began taking up a collection for the family of this ordinary hero.

And then, on Thursday (October 6) the entire story changed. The police managed to track down the Egyptian sweet seller. CCTV footage showed that it was Babu, not the Egyptian who first raised his hand. Babu charged at the man time and again on the platform of the metro station. “Babu was like a man possessed. He kept going after my client, tearing his T-shirt. The entire fight lasted about two minutes. Finally my client who was trying to save himself pushed Babu to get him off his back. Babu staggered back, fell on the rails and died. At no moment did my client aggress any woman or try to steal a mobile phone,” said the Egyptian's lawyer, Augustin d'Ollone. Judicial sources say the Indians, including Babu were drunk. “The scenario where a young woman was molested and a man died trying to save her honour no longer holds true,” a source close to the enquiry told the AFP.

CCTV footage

The CCTV footage does not show what happened when the Egyptian, who has been identified as a 22-year-old illegal immigrant from Cairo, got onto the train and ran into Babu and his friends. The footage is taken on the platforms of two different stations. It first shows the Egyptian attempting to sell sweets to women passengers on the platform of one station. He then boards an incoming train on line 7. The next bit of footage shows him getting off the train at Crimee, followed by Babu and his friends and being abused and attacked repeatedly by Babu. No other Indian was involved in the fight.

On Sunday, Rajinder Singh was cremated following a ceremony at the Sikh Gurdwara at Bobigny. Those present were reluctant to comment on the new developments and CCTV revelations. All they said was “He had no family. He lived in the suburb of Seine Saint-Denis, was well liked and was a hard worker.”

The Hindu did not cover the story on the 29th because there was no reliable source who could confirm the facts surrounding of Babu's death and because independent verification was not possible. The media both in France and in India blew up the story without having the facts in hand. In an electoral year, the two Ministers who rushed to lay wreaths at the place where Babu died have emerged with egg on their face. Calls to both Ministries received just one reply : “No comment.”

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