Millennium Post

Stop passing the buck!

Is social media responsible for aggravating communal tension in Muzaffarnagar, leading to killing of over 50 people? If you go by the opinion of the state government, the answer is an unambiguous ‘yes’. Though this was the first time social media was allegedly used to spark communal riots, using videos and images, can it even be a reason why one will killed another person? To get clarity on this, let’s have a look at the chronology of the events in Muzafarnagar since 27 August, when a young Muslim was reportedly knifed by two Hindu Jat men to avenge a case of sexual harassment that had happened a day before. The two were caught by the local Muslim residents and lynched.
The images of the killing of the two men was allegedly circulated by the local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Thakur Sangeet Some. The leader, according to media reports, was also responsible for uploading a fake video on YouTube of lynching of two youths – a video, according to the Uttar Pradesh police officials, shot in Pakistan.

According to the police, the video was also shared in CD format and through ‘WhatsApp’, the popular mobile Internet messaging application. Though the video was blocked on YouTube, the authorities couldn’t check its circulation on the messaging app. On 8 and 9 September, as reported by a leading English daily, a few headlines of a Hindi daily were also distorted and circulated on social media. A report with the headline, Dangiyo ko goli marne ka aadesh (Shoot at sight orders against rioters), was changed to Musalmano dwara Hinduo ka katleam jaari (Muslims continue to slaughter Hindus). Another news with the headline, Muzaffarnagar mein Musalmano ka aatank, Hinduo mein khauf (Muzaffarnagar terrorised by Muslims, Hindus in fear’) was changed to Panchayat se laute do logo ki goli mar ke hatya (Two killed on their way back from Panchayat).

While the first panchayat was held on 31 August and was attended by people in thousands, the number of attendees steeply rose to a lakh at the mahapanchayat organised on 7 Septmeber. These gatherings were  attended by local leaders of the BJP and Bharatiya Kisan Union, reportedly deciding to avenge the killings of the two Jat youths and punish others from the Muslim community for
purportedly violating the dignity of Hindu women.

These two mammoth gatherings were preceded by a panchayat of minorities attended by leaders from Bahujan Samaj Party, Congress and Samajwadi Party, whose speeches were oozing with venom. On 7 September, the violence broke out sporadically. It was not social media, but the venomous speeches delivered by the members of the BJP, Bharatiya Kisan Union, Samajwadi Party and BSP. The ruling party and the district administration has received wide criticism for their inability to register an FIR in the 27 August killings and nip the matter in the bud. As if this was not sufficient to flare up communal tension, the district administration allowed the mammoth Hindu congregation at panchayats and mahapanchayats.

Given the communal history of India, riots were always instigated by rumours. The medium could be the people, a pamphlet, CD or an internet video. The riots in Gujarat and other districts of Uttar Pradesh are a testimony to that. So to say that social media instigated communal violence in Muzaffarnagar sounds more like the government simply using social media as an excuse and refusing to own up its own lethal mistakes. While censoring disturbing videos and images could be a sensible thing to do, holding it solely responsible for spreading communal hatred doesn’t.

On arrangement with Governance Now
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