Noakhali district in East Bengal saw one of the worst communal riots in pre-independence India. It took place during October-November 1946, when Muslim mobs went about massacring minority Hindus in the area. The spark for this madness was provided by rumours that Hindus were amassing weapons to unleash an attack on Muslims. Seventy years down the lane, in another part of Bengal, North 24 Parganas district, a similar madness was enacted in the first week of July. This time the villain was not rumour, but a Facebook post, hurting Muslim sentiments. The mayhem that hit several towns in Bengal was not an isolated incident. A few days back, another Facebook post had triggered violence in Uttarakhand. Other States too have witnessed bloodshed over posts in Facebook, twitter, etc. Social media is becoming the new villain behind many flare-ups. The grim business of inciting communal violence comes straight into one’s phone through social media platforms. Hatred and communal venom are spread at the touch of a button.
But what stands out in the present communal carnage is that leaders themselves are stoking fire through fake messages and pictures. This is in stark contrast to the earlier times. In Noakhali, we had Mahatma Gandhi who went from village to village to douse the communal fire. There was a moving incident at one village. Gandhiji asked the Hindus and Muslims to come out of their hutments for a common prayer and pledge for peace. No elderly person turned up. Gandhiji was ingenious. He had carried a ball with him, and then addressing children from the village he said: “.… children are innocent. You are children of God. I am inviting you to play the game of ball.” The Hindu and Muslim children started moving towards the dais where Gandhiji was sitting. He threw the ball at them. Boys and girls threw it back. He played for half an hour and then he told the villagers: “You have no courage but if you want that courage, induct it from your children.”
In place of Gandhiji, the peacemaker and troubleshooter, we have leaders who incite violence through social media. BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma posted a picture of 2002 Gujarat riots portraying it as a scene from Bengal violence; another party leader from Haryana circulated a still from a Bhojpuri film, showing a man forcibly pulling a woman’s saree, as an original photograph taken in West Bengal, to portray the fate of women in the State governed by Mamata Banerjee; yet another saffron leader posted a picture of a woman being beaten up by two police officers claiming that the scene was from Bhirbum in Bengal, the woman a Hindu and the police officers Muslims. Ironically, it was a scene from Gujarat riots in 2002.
Social media which began as a new way of socializing among friends, networking among business people and launching various movements have stooped to dangerous levels of organizing violence and riots. Fake news and pictures, shared in no time, alter reality leading to unimaginable consequences. The ‘party with a difference’ is truly doing things differently. Unfortunately, this is not the difference that people craved for.(Published on 17th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 29)