Rajat Sharma

How social media is being misused to foment communal unrest

akb2307The story of the death of a Muslim youth due to severe burns in Chandauli, near Varanasi, took a curious turn on Thursday when police arrested three persons, including the youth’s uncle, on charge of circulating fake news on social media alleging that four Hindu boys had set him on fire for not chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’.

SP, Chandauli, Santosh Kumar Singh said on Thursday dismissed the theory that four Hindu youths had set the Muslim boy on fire for refusing to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. He said, after investigation, it was found that the Muslim youth Abdul Khaliq Ansari had set himself on fire and had concocted the story after he was egged on by three persons including his uncle to add the ‘Jai Sri Ram’ angle.

The victim had earlier told police that he had gone for an early morning stroll, when four youths cornered him and set him on fire. He alleged that the youths were asking him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ but he refused.

Chandauli SP said that some anti-social elements including the boy’s uncle had tutored him to add the ‘Jai Sri Ram’ angle. He said, the victim’s statements were inconsistent, because the sequence of events and location changed in each narration. CCTV cameras on each location were checked and the victim’s versions were found to be incorrect. Police quoted an eyewitness, a newspaper hawker, who said that he saw the boy setting himself on fire and thought the youth was crazy.

During police investigation, it was found that the uncle in question had an old feud with a Hindu neighbour, and in order to take revenge, he told his nephew to name youths from this family and add the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ angle. According to police, the three arrested persons, including the uncle, confessed that they spread this false narration on social media.

During investigation, police put the local social media groups on surveillance, and on Thursday booked all the three arrested persons under sections 153A, 295A, 420, 120B, 182 IPC and section 66 of IT Act.

We have no valid reason to doubt the police version. Since there have been incidents of lynching based on community in the recent past, people normally tend to believe versions that are dished out on social media.

A similar incident took place in Maharashtra involving two Muslim youths and later the communal angle was found to be fake. There were similar fake cases in West Bengal and western UP.

A few days ago, I had revealed in ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ how a rumour was spread on social media about a Hindu youth raping a Muslim girl in Jaipur. There was tension in the locality, and hundreds of Muslims went to the police station to stage protest. Later it turned out that the youth who raped the girl was a Muslim and he was arrested. Jaipur police promptly brought the situation under control.

Last week there was a rumour that a bus carrying Haj pilgrims was stoned by some Hindu youths. Later, some other buses were stoned out of revenge. Later it turned out that no stone was thrown at the bus carrying Haj pilgrims.

I am narrating all these incidents to underline how social media is being misused to create an atmosphere of fear and hatred all over the country. I would appeal to all not to blindly trust such messages on social media, and try to find out the truth before forwarding them to others.

Citizens should inform the local police if such fake messages land up in their phones.It is also the duty of local authorities to act promptly and nip the mischief in the bud. Strong and deterrent action must be taken against those who circulate such fake messages.

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