Sit down, fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride.
He had just been recruited by the NASA, the American space organization. In August 2012, news reports appeared in Malayalam newspapers and TV channels with visuals of young people celebrating this success of one of their own. Then, there was no looking back for P.V. Arun from Manimala in Kerala.
He was headline material. Arun claimed NASA had accepted him as a research scientist and he had been admitted simultaneously for a doctoral thesis by the famous scientist Barbara Liskov, faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in January 2013.
A month later, the English media picked up the story
“In search of extraterrestrial life” The Hindu reported on September 19, 2012 and added that Arun will be joining elite scientists in their search for the existence of extraterrestrial life, working from his own workstation at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), U.S.
Many papers including The Hindu interviewed Arun at a felicitation programme organised for him by the Institute of Human Resources Development (IHRD), as he was a student at the College of Engineering, Poonjar, under the IHRD.
“His dreams make a ‘contact’ with ETs” The New Indian Express reported and said, “lucrative job offers from three MNCs did not lure Arun, as the advice of his teachers was ringing in his mind, to scale new heights in research.”
Mathrubhumi said in August 2012 “NASA invited Arun to be a scientist.”
In September 2014, exactly two years later, more reports emerged claiming that NASA had relaxed some of its HR rules like compulsory American citizenship for its employees were set aside to recruit Arun as they were impressed by his intelligence and patriotism.
Mathrubhumi had an extensive report saying Arun was part of a NASA delegation to Delhi, and was the youngest in the delegation. The report said NASA was so impressed that senior scientists conveyed his story to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
In the first week of October 2014, Telegraph reported about the same, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to know about Arun from the Home Minister and Modi invited the young scientist to a private meeting.
In a report titled 'patriot NASA boy turns hero' Telegraph said the meeting that lasted 30 minutes, “Modi is learnt to have told Arun that the doors of the country’s space research establishments would always be open for him.” (Telegraph's rejoinder on 30/10/2014)
And this is where the cookie crumbled.
Every single detail in these reports was a lie. NASA never recruited Arun. NASA never made any concession for him. There was no NASA delegation meeting in Delhi and he never met Modi.
So how did this 27-year-old from Kerala manage this hoax for two years undetected and how did so many media houses report about him?
Even as Arun was enjoying the limelight, some people started asking questions. His claims were first questioned on a Google Group discussion. Another person who doubted Arun's claims was Jayanath Jayanthan, the Superintendent of Police, Telecommunications, Kerala.
Jayanath also is in charge of a social media group called Netizen police, an initiative by the Kerala police. When he shared Arun’s story with some people on the group, someone at MIT said it was a hoax.
“One group member was at MIT and he expressed his doubts about Arun’s claims as he knew all the Keralites in MIT. Then we enquired about Arun and realized that he has no connection with neither MIT nor NASA,” Jayanath told The News Minute.
“After that I talked to him personally, not as a policeman but just as someone older to him. He confessed to me that everything was a lie, in our enquiry we found out that he worked in Royal University of Bhutan as lecturer between July 2013 to July 2014,” Jayanath said.
According to Jayanath, Arun even got the position of a lecturer in the Bhutan university by showing the English media’s coverage about him. “I spoke to the Bhutan University officials. They told me Arun showed them the news clippings, should we have disbelieved the national paper which reported about him they asked me,” Jayanath said.
So what set Arun on this fictional path? “As a child he always wanted to work in America. While other friends were getting lucrative offers, he did not want to lie that an Indian company had offered him a job, so he told friends about NASA. Working in NASA perhaps was his dream. The story was picked up by media, many fantasies added to it and Arun became a hit,” Jayanath says.
Arun did not respond to our calls, but he told the Deccan Chronicle (which broke the story of the hoax) that he had never met the Prime Minister.
“I am wondering how so many news reports were published, even claiming that he met the PM,” Jayanath said. Though Jayanath had warned him some days ago, Arun went and spoke about his achievements at a police event.
The IHRD which organised a felicitation meet for him now says they were also duped into believing that Arun did get into NASA. "He showed us a news clipping that reported about an MIT press meet about him. We believed him and decided to honour him." says Minu KK, a teacher at IHRD. Even his teachers at IHRD began doubting Arun's claims recently. "He was a brilliant student, he didn't need to do all this. We started getting doubts when he claimed his papers had been published by Nature magazine, but we could not find link."
Though Minu and others met Arun on Tuesday, he stuck to his NASA claim and maintained he will go to NASA office in November 2014.
"Many newspapers have now started reporting about the ‘Arun Hoax’, but should there not be a rejoinder that they themselves were part of this hoax?" asks Jayanath.
Editor's Note: The News Minute has removed Arun’s picture after a reader pointed out that his family is in distress. The focus of the story is not Arun, but the manner in which news media did not verify facts when pursuing a story.
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