Articles

Saharanpur & how social media helped spread caste-divide & communal hate

The UP police have finally started a crackdown under the IT Act

Amit Bhardwaj

This is the third part of the series. Read Part 1, Part 2 & Part 4 here.

When social media and rumours come together they have a capacity of manufacturing a catastrophe. Presently, the police and administration in Western Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur are trying to avert a similar situation.

On May 5, approximately 150 young men from the Thakur community left from Simlana village’s Maharana Pratap Jayanti celebration to teach a lesson to the Dalits of Shabirpur village. The Dalits had allegedly stopped the DJ taken out by the Thakurs in the jayanti procession. The police also stepped in to prevent any fracas – as the tension between Dalits and Thakurs was starting to take on ugly contours. However, the police officials said that the moment the Thakur youth reached the spot, Dalits started stone-pelting from their rooftops. A 27-year-old Thakur, Sumit Singh got injured during the pelting and later died. The rumour that spread, though, was that at least three to four Thakurs had been killed, and bullets were fired by Dalits. After this, between 1,000 to 1,500 Thakurs entered Shabirpur and devastated properties owned by Dalits.

Us rumour par ki teen se char logon ki hatya ho gai hai aur goli chali hai … is afwah par logon ne  [Thakur community] gharon ke baahar bhuse the … un sab mein aag jani karni shuru kar di. Usi kram mein kuch chappar bhi jale aur kuch bike bhi jo ghar ke baahar ya ahate mein khadi thi – wo bhi jail gai. (Rumours spread that three to four Thakurs were killed and bullets were fired too. On these rumours, people [Thakurs] started setting houses on fire and bikes inside and outside the compounds were torched,)” said Saharanpur’s Senior Superintendent of Police, Subash Chandra Dubey.

By the time the response team from the district headquarters reached Shabirpur, over 50 houses had been attacked by the furious mob. The Ravidas temple and statue of Ravidas was damaged by this mob. They attacked a doctor’s clinic, ration shops and even animals were not spared.

Soon after the attacks of May 5, the Bhim Army – a Dalit organisation founded by Chandrashekhar – surfaced in news reports. Chandrashekhar said that the administration must act against those who ravaged the Dalit households in Shabirpur and compensate the families. Even before any official confirmation was made regarding the compensation to be given to Singh’s family – rumours spread that the local MLA Brijesh Singh Rana had given Rs 15 lakh compensation. This only helped anger the Dalit community in Saharanpur and the Bhim Army called a maha panchayat on May 9.

However, rumour-mongering and hate speech by supporters of the Bhim Army against the Thakur community further amplified the Thakur-Dalit divide. Hours before clashes between supporters of Bhim Army and the police started on May 9, one “Nitin Chamar” in a Facebook post asked his followers to watch TV as they would create history in Saharanpur.

Similar provocative posts were shared by Nitin on his Facebook id on May 8:

Even after the May 9 clashes, provocative posts were continuously being shared on social media. The Facebook page – Bhim Army shared a post on May 10 – could not have helped strengthen inter-caste peace in Saharanpur.

Along with newspaper clippings of Shabirpur violence, photos of violence – completely unrelated to May 5 were being shared. Other accounts also continued sharing such images:

Importantly, the Bhim Army page had shared a post on May 11 which said that if anyone hurts Chandrashekar, then the entire land of Saharanpur will witness a bloodbath. Soon its sympathisers started sharing this image:

The police have already tracked down dozens of Facebook ids, IP addresses and mobile phones – based on surveillance reports of who actively took part in either spreading hate speech or rumour-mongering.

“Six have been arrested under Section 66 of the IT Act and four are absconding in the case,” SSP Dubey told Newslaundry. He added, “We have zeroed in on 20 other individuals who were involved in similar activities”. Several others could be soon rounded up for spreading hate speech on social media. Nitin Chamar has also been apprehended by the police. Police officials said that they are also cross-verifying the activities and conduct of these individuals with village pradhans or local sources.

Videos questioning the authority of the police are being shared by the non-Dalits too. Relatives of Singh, in Rasoolpur Tonk, forwarded two different videos to this correspondent – in which the crowd can be seen beating the police officials. They said those attacking the police are Dalits of Saharanpur – who are following the orders of the Bhim Army. “When the police cannot protect themselves from the Dalits, how will they protect us? These people are terrorising Saharanpur.”

However, when we verified these videos with the police – they emphatically stated that the videos were not even shot in Saharanpur. “Look at the uniform of the officers,” pointed out SSP Dubey. “These clothes are used by the police only between October 21 and March 1.”

While Saharanpur and Shabirpur stays tense, the only and very thin silver lining seems to be that people will be less gung-ho about spreading fake news and rumours through social media. Hopefully, at least this restraint will help calm down inter-caste animosity, at least slightly, in the region.

The author can be contacted on Twitter @tweets_amit.

Newslaundry
www.newslaundry.com