Recently, 5 people in the Rainpada village of Maharashtra’s Dhule district, were lynched to death by villagers, on suspicion of being child-lifters. The five people had come to the tribal hamlet in a state transport bus. When one of them tried to speak to a girl child, villagers, who had gathered for the weekly Sunday bazaar, suddenly attacked them.
But this was not a random act of violence, no communal hatred or political attack; it was WhatsApp violence. Yes, you read that right…
Whatsapp messages spread violence
The most popular instant messaging app is being used to disperse rumours. Fake news regarding child kidnappers have started circulating on WhatsApp groups. And since it is usually difficult for recipients to identify fake news, especially in the case of child abduction, it triggers people emotionally and drives them to fury. This has led to a series of lynching and violent murders across the country.
More than 13 cases of lynching have been recorded this year
It all started in May 2017 when 7 people were beaten to death by a violent mob in Jharkhand, due to rumours of child-lifters active in that region.
Later, in West Bengal, a middle-aged taxi driver was severely beaten up by villagers in Bolpur town on suspicion that he tried to force an 11-year-old girl into his vehicle. In another incident, a 65-year-old tourist Rukmini was lynched on 8th May by a 200 member-strong mob in Athimoor village in Tamil Nadu, after she was found distributing chocolates to children in the area.
In Bengaluru an angry mob chased and lynched a 26-year-old man from Rajasthan to death, on 23rd May. In Guwahati, two friends were pulled out of their car and bludgeoned to death on 8th June.
A 33-year-old man, Sukanta Chakrabarty was lynched in a South Tripura district on 28th June. Ironically, the victim had only visited the town because the state government asked him to campaign against child-lifters rumour-mongering.
Apart from these, victims were reported in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Manipur as well. It is also been noticed that victims of these lynches are mostly outsiders who were incapable of communicating with the villagers in local languages.
The government has issued preventive guidelines
To curb these killings and uncontrolled mob violence the Indian Government issued guidelines for all states to prevent the spreading of child-lifters messages. District administrators have been advised to identify vulnerable areas and hold outreach programmes for creating awareness. Building confidence in people about instigative and false videos, messages and audio clips is also advised.
IT ministry said, “Unfortunate killings are deeply painful and regrettable”, and that abuse of platforms like WhatsApp for circulation of such provocative content was a matter of deep concern. The ministry also asked WhatsApp to immediately take action on their part.
WhatsApp officials too are horrified
Replying to the IT ministry, WhatsApp on Wednesday said that they too were horrified by such terrible acts of violence and asked for the support of the Indian government, civil society and technology companies to bring the situation back in control.