On top it, these heinous developments are coming from all corners of the country simply because one rumour of child-kidnappers has gone viral. From Assam, Tripura, West Bengal, Jharkhand to Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, 9 states are severely affected by this horrific pattern.
The moot question is where do these rumours originate from? Where does this mob come from? And how do they participate in heinous crimes without thinking twice? Who spread this poison?
The government has squarely put the onus on WhatsApp, through which these dangerous rumours have been circulated. The original video is from Pakistan, where a non governmental organisation made an educational video on child lifting. Here it was edited enough to deceive people into believing it is from India. The motive behind spreading it is still unclear, but what is clear is the insecurity and fear among the citizenry in India.
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Over 20 crore people use WhatsApp in India, which tells you how ominous the signs are. The company itself has said it cannot do much because the messages are encrypted and awareness is the only solution to curb the menace of fake rumours.
But who will create this awareness? The government has not taken a single proactive step in last two months. Prime Minister or Home Minister has not issued any public statement. In fact, the present day ruling party and its cadre is the most efficient user of social media. It has used WhatsApp extremely effectively to reach the grassroots and influence public opinion. What stops them from using the same medium to create awareness and take on the rumour-mongers.
The law enforcement agencies have fallen short on this front and the concerned chief ministers would be aware of it. Yet, in spite of 29 lynchings, why does it seem like they are just waking up to the quagmire?
One must not forget that the victims in every case are the most marginalised sections of the society. They include daily wage labourers, nomadic tribes, transgenders or minorities. This is exactly what happens during communal riots. The most deprived section of the society suffers the worst consequences.
In the latest case of Dhule, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis extended 5 lakh rupees to the family of the victims. But the larger question is that of their safety. This is exactly the time for the authorities to prove we are a democracy and not a mobocracy.
And the Malegaon police proved that in this week itself. People targeting the migrants from Parbhani were checked in time with a lathi charge and averted another case of lynching. But most of the times, police in rural areas, do not reach the spot on time.
Any sane human being wouldn’t accuse a political party or a group of having orchestrated these rumours. Having said that, such viciousness does not creep into a society overnight. Are we going to explore how our society has become so violent?
Social media became prominent in India over the past five years or so. Users on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook have proliferated dramatically. And, as mentioned earlier, its most effective user has been Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team. Right from the general elections of 2014, and every state election in between, social media has been an integral part of BJP’s campaign. Other parties have tried to replicate the method, but not with as much success.
But it is a double edged sword. And before we could realise it, things went out of hand. It is a bit similar to the Goebbels doctrine. Rumours are packaged as news reports, and we pass it on without verifying them, only because it is free. It is used to malign ideological opponents, rewrite convenient history. It has now fallen in the hands of voyeuristic criminals, who, for whatever motive, are circulating child kidnapping rumours.
Journalist Ravish Kumar is right. As he says, through social media, we have created a violent mob. It is constantly busy hating a group of people, maligning them. It is constantly looking for an enemy, whether it is a country, a community or a political party. We have to be naïve to believe that this targeted hate campaign would remain confined to the social media.
Cases of mob lynching have been happening for a while now. We have seen how cow has been used to enable mob lynching against Muslims and Dalits. Since 2010, over 97 percent of mob lynching instances have happened in the past four years. If the mobs believe they have the backing of the establishment, are they mistaken? Have we forgotten the aftermath of Dadri? The police, too, has gone soft on the perpetrators whenever they could. A local BJP member of Parliament even promised to help those who participated in the lynching that happened in Jharkhand. In Tripura, state education minister gave credence to the rumour of child lifting. Finally, Chief Minister had to clarify.
AIB’s Rohan Joshi wrote a touching post on Facebook recently. He says, ‘ I truly believe no person is currently truly safe on the streets of India.There are days I truly fear that tomorrow I could be walking home and some dude in a crowd will point and say “this guy speaks against Modiji” and that’ll be the end of that. I will not expect to see any of my neighbours help me. I will also not be surprised to see them in the mob. I am officially genuinely afraid of my own countrymen.’
Mob lynching is the humongous challenge before so called new India. This is the kind of mobocracy that has put the entire nation to test. It raises questions whether we are really a developmental society or live in stone age. To be able to negate it, we have to get to the root cause of it. Else, this monster will soon devour all of us.
PS: Madras High Court has recently observed that the ones irresponsibly forwarding unverified messages would be culpable as well. For now, let us at least keep that in mind.
Also Read: WhatsApp Does Not Create Lynch Mobs, People Do