By Pranav Gupta, Symbiosis Law School, Pune
Editor’s Note: This research paper emphasizes on several attributes of violence that prevails in India and which provokes the aggression and crime. It also includes numerous issues related to religion and community violence, also the present date rumor tools like social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, SMS etc.) which have emerged as one of the sharpest weapons, complimenting politics and media which easily misguides the mob. The paper also explains the relation between intercommunity and interreligious violence and showcases the impact of such aggression and how different religions and religious texts backed their views over crime. It also attempts to take a broad but detailed account of use – and misuse – of social media, print and electronic media in during riots .The need for “responsible” use of social networking sites like twitter, Facebook and others during a communal riot will be taken up for discussion in the context of hate propaganda, instances of fake and misleading videos or rumors being propagated. It also presents a case study on the role social media played in the recent Muzzafarnagar riots.
SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE ARENA OF COMMUNAL VIOLENCE
India can be marked by the diversity of traditions and practices. India is the birthplace of various religions; namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Cultural diversity & tolerance are both brought about in the country by law and custom, which associates them to religious communities. The amount of diversity in the belief systems of India today has resulted in to certain social structures with religious ideas and expressions claiming sizable influences.
Human society is a collection of various groups and individuals with distinct identities which are divided on the basis of class, religion, and culture. Every society has its unique identity which differs it from another and the struggles for limited resources put these groups or divided societies to a conflicting stage. These communal or social conflicts whether non-violent or violent are somehow a form of human action. Communalism is an extensive phenomenon in the social life of an Indian citizen and communal riots are the morally reprehensible way of expressing it. Communal riots have become an undiminished entirety part of communalism.
An event can be classified as a communal riot on two grounds: firstly, if there is violence and, secondly, if two or more communally identified groups confront each other or the members of the other group, at some point during the violence.[i] There have been several horrific communal riots have been the 1984 Sikhriots and the 2002 Gujarat (Godhra) riots & the recent Muzaffarnagar riots. Social media had a key role in the Assam violence, Kishtwar (Jammu) & this time in the Muzaffarnagar riots also, the posts by user over Facebook, Twitter, SMS & coverage by the Indian media tend to affect the mold the opinions and actions of the other individuals of the society.
The internet has become an integral part of modern living. The spread of social media and the use of platforms is changing the way society operates. Social media has been playing a destructive role in inciting communal violence in India and time has come to check its misuse. Social networking sites are a threat to national security as they are used as tools for drug trafficking, money laundering and match-fixing, terrorism, instigating violence and for rumor tools etc. Social media tools like
- Discussion forums
- Micro blogs
- And the most burning issue, i.e. Social networking sites – Facebook, Twitter etc.
Social media can be defined, among other things, as tools; how they are used, by whom they are used and for what reason can represent either a threat or an opportunity for national security, it is itself shouldn’t be seen as a potential threat to national security but those who use these tools may pose a potential risk.
“It is now a given that social media environments are important sources of data for understanding the dynamics of the diffusion of information and human behavior”. Evidence suggests that social media had an impact on events such as Mujaffarnagar riots, Godhara Riots, Babri Masjid riots etc. Groups representing a potential threat to national security like International terrorist groups, Transnational Crime Orgs, Cracker groups, Religious sects, Hacker groups, NGO’s, International organizations,Allied foreign states, terrorist groups etc.[ii]
SOCIAL MEDIA- A RUMOR TOOL
Rumor tools have a lethal role in inciting communal violence in India and time has come to have a check on its harmful misuse[iii] so that it does not again cause erosion in inter-community relations. First of all it is important for everybody including police& other governing sources to understand how the new media is used by miscreants. An effective mechanism is needed to monitor such misuse of social media. The sad part is riot control plans that exist at present were made by (the colonial) British rulers. It has not been modernized to suit present times[iv]. According to reports Uttar Pradesh Police, a dubious video clip that reportedly showed the execution by mob of two Hindu Jat boys that was circulated fuelled the riots in Muzaffarnagar. But the footage was later found to be a video shot in Pakistan and its role in Muzzaffarnagar riots is still in question, the video became so popular that its snapshots were also published into the pages of some Hindi dailies. Certain political figures were also booked under Sections 420 (forgery), 153-A (promoting enmity on religious grounds) and 120-B (conspiracy) of the IPC and Section 66 of the Information Technology Act for making this video public and inciting communal violence.[v]
In July 2012, during the violence between indigenous Bodos and Muslims in Assam, certain images were circulated, fueling panic resulting in the exodus of thousands of northeastern to their native places from different parts. Similarly, riots that broke in Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir after Eid celebrations were also aggravated by certain postings on the social media. The situation was checked within the right time and the riots were restrained. In Kishtwar, the material on social media were immediately tracked and curbed, otherwise the result riots would have been different.
Certain newspapers which are morphed with inflammatory headlines also have a larger role in the curving opinions and actions of the common people who do not follow Facebook or twitter.
Dainik Jagran ’s Muzaffarnagar edition on September 9 reads:[vi]
Musalmaanon dwaaraa Hinduon kaa katleamjaari [Muslims continue to slaughter Hindus].
September 8 was also morphed with a fake headline:
The actual version read “Panchayat se laute do logo kigoli mar kehatya (Two killed on their way back from Panchayat).”
Its morphed version read: “MuzaffarnagarmeinMusalmanokaaatank, HinduomeinKhauf (Muzaffarnagar terrorized by Muslims, Hindus in fear.”
It has become difficult for government to check the activities on social networking sites. In August2012, when morphed pictures were used by mischief makers in the form of MMS to fuel communal tension by targeting people from northeast. The Government had then braced down by banning bulk SMS and MMS for a certain period. The task was made more difficult with most pictures morphed and uploaded on websites in Pakistan and some other countries where viewing them was easily possible.The government has to depend on the micro-blogging and social-networking sites whose servers are located in the US to act against the posts and uploads. As these companies interpret individual’s privacy, it took days before objectionable content was blocked.[vii] Social networking sites are becoming a tool to benign anyone’s image.
And, it is quite difficult for us to take legal action against owners of the sites that are situated in the different countries, as they are not bound to obey our law.[viii]
THE CHANGING SPHERE OF NEWS MEDIA
The face of media is changing with new communications technologies such as camera-enabled mobile phones, spy cameras & voice recorders are giving journalists an opportunity to gather and disperse information gathered very easily.[ix] Digitization of the news media has led to compression of time and distance but various hidden realities and factor still affect the reporting of conflicts. The images broadcast in our living rooms are not only informing the global audience of the horrific happenings but might also instigate further violence in an existing violent situation. Therefore, the media’s report of a clash situation leads to the clarifying of the conflict itself. The media kindles the opinion-building and impact the political decisions and audience’s reactions in society. This eventually shapes crises and conflicts as in carefully selected news & tight control over the media. Since independence until the invasion of cable television in India, the electronic media had served as the mouthpiece of the government. In the Operation Blue star 1984 the local media were not supportive of the Sikh causes. Moreover, since the beginning of the problems in Punjab, the Government had strict control on the media and imposed heavy censorship. There was a tight control over media so capture the horrific events were not even allowed in the local land. But during 2002 Gujarat riots the two English-language national newspapers in India, The Times of India and the Indian Express were critical of the state government. The result of the multiple and complex interests of regions, groups within them leads to economic, social and political conflicts. Such conflicts are difficult to handle and requires negotiations between the parties involved.
The concept of hate crimes by analyzing the various definitions stated by different criminologist throughout the world, Hate Crime or Hate Violence is said to be, ‘crime or violence committed due to the victim’s real color, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or origin[x]. It’s an offence that shows the evidence prejudice made on religion, race, sexual orientation or ethnicity.
Various jurists from USA and Europe assumed that the distinctiveness is only the exclusive criteria for studying the concept of hate crimes. However, in hate crimes, the state of socio-economic should be examined thoroughly. The social economic factors like social learning of bias, inequality, policy of selective handling of groups violence, economic factors etc. have major impact over hate crimes.
Here is a case study of such nature which recently shook not only the roots of Indian government but also displays the political as well as ethical side of India which has turned out too abysmal.
CASE STUDY: IMPACT OF THE MEDIA
In the recent decades, with a sharp rise in the communal incidents and religion based tensions, the growth of communal riots and force has acquired a dangerous position in India. Communal violence has been prevailing in India since a long time. For example, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
27th August 2013, a terrifying yet sad day in India which gave birth to a new group of communal riots namely ‘Muzaffarnagar Riots’. Severe clashes between the two communities, the ‘Muslims’ and ‘Jats’ in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, India broke out in the parts of rural areas and communally sensitive district of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh which claimed more than 43 lives leaving 93 plus injured. These riots in Muzaffarnagar have not only raised questions about the social stability in India but also about the ability of the civil administration in order to remove disorder and enforce tough rules and laws against targeted communal violence.
From inception, the situations and factors which led to the emergence of such serious riots and violence was, on this one day when a Hindu girl was walking past a Muslim community on her way to school; she was being harassed by a man who passed lewd, insulting comments on her. The girl then further complained to her brothers about the incident. Without giving it a thought, the brothers took the matter in their own hands and decided to teach that guy a lesson by inserting a knife into the guy’s stomach, which ultimately resulted in his death. The guy who had harassed the girl belonged to the Muslim community. The friends, family and neighbors of that Muslim boy caught hold of the girl’s brothers and lynched them mercilessly in front of many witnesses. This was not the end but a beginning which opened doors to the Muzaffarnagar communal riots. The girl’s father, when tried filing a FIR against the family of the boy who had harassed the girl, the police refused to register the FIR. On the other hand, when the Muslim family went to file a FIR for the murder of their son who harassed the girl, the police readily registered the case and arrested the Father of the girl with his other close relatives.
Here, the problem actually started, as by thinking that clear discrimination was done by the administration, the Jat community requested the panchayat of their community to force the police in order to drop the charges against girl’s father. Nonetheless, the Administration did not take any final decision. The Jat community again approached the Panchayat under the ‘Bahu Beti Bachao Sammelan’ and distributed a few inflammatory videos and pictures via CD/MMS. With no action brought in by the main people of the district, people of the Muslim community took advantage of the situation and on a certain day attacked the people of the Hindu community. After this incident, the riots spread like fire which became uncontrollable.
The vernacular media and a few major national news channels (electronic) have seemed to have played a vital role in provoking and instigating serious violence and aggression against the Muslim community. Through unfound and false stories, a mischievous and deliberate attempt in spreading hatred between the communities was a part of the role which the media played. Nonetheless, with the support of the representatives of political parties like BJP, they used social media like Facebook, MMS and CD’s as a tool arouse hatred before as well as during the riots. Moreover, the people of Muzaffarnagar gave a communal color to the violence by exaggerating the incidents. Many Hindi news channels and newspapers misreported the happenings on daily basis by setting up a picture in the minds of the public that it was the Muslims who were slaughtering the Hindus and initiating distorted violence. As a result, there was a severe rise in the rumors and passion to fight and revolt back in the riots.
PLANS OF GOVERNMENT TO CURB THE MISUSE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
- Setting up of a cyber surveillance agencies which can forewarn about any such malicious intent and timely notifying in order to take suitable action.
- Frame guidelines for telecom operators to prevent panic reaction and block harmful content on the internet and social media.
- Prepare a legal authority approved by the government to fill the existing gaps in the Information Technology Act for dealing with such situation, including deterring malicious use of the internet and social media.
Social media is just a body to broadcast information quickly – whether the information is good or bad depends ultimately on the individual, how he takes it. Whether he gets lured immediately or waits for the reliable source and frames his action which may be in favour of whole society.
ROLE THAT MEDIA SHOULD PLAY DURING COMMUNAL RIOTS
Despite the increased level of communication methods, very few governments say about successful communication to the mass during conflicts because they fail to understand the perception of the same conflict in the minds of the common mass.[xi] The role of the social media in covering and resolving conflicts, especially those revolving around the religious differences that may lead to fueling communal riots in India is extremely critical.[xii]There are enough challenges faced by a journalist and media personnel regarding the care he should take in such a situation.
The guidelines for a reporter in covering communal riots should be to look out for detailed background information, not continue with the stereotyping of communities, find residents who deal with both the communities, talk to victims from both sides, corroborate the victims’ as well as the police’s accounts, discover the role of the police, the politicians and the media and highlight stories where communities have helped each other.The people of society form their opinions based on the immediate coverage of reporters on the ground and how television anchors and the media expert analyst sitting in the studios analyze in their frame of mind. Reporters and journalists are not value-free. A communal riot is a sensitive issue and their personal opinion may get in the way of professional reporting. It would be extremely difficult for a reporter or a journalist to cover and report on a communal riot. However, this problem would halt if the reporter or the journalist keeps the basic concept of reporting in mind, where first of all he or she needs to understand that conflicts where he/she is a social process in which he or she is an important social actor, an actor whose job is to halt the conflict and not add to it.[xiii]
On the broader aspect, there are many functions of the media in usual and reporters in particular include preventing or calming the conflict so that a viable solution is reached immediately. During a communal riot, the media can even get the international perspective on the events and thereby create an environment where the world starts to discuss the same. Ultimately, it might force the national and the state governments to act accordingly in fovour of the society. The media should realize that they can either alleviate or aggravate the situation. The media have the capability to provide a great deal of information during an ongoing communal riot. They can inform the public or communicate directly with the victims and their families .Thus, controlled steps and actions should be taken in order to prevent the situation from further aggravation.[xiv]
Through our research, we have been to conclude that responsibility of media increase while covering the communal riots. Media coverage & social media helps people to get new information and new opinion to the same issue, it is necessary to insure the liberty of the opinion giving and views by people in social media helps people to have better and update information regarding a with range of social, political, technical issues. But this is important that we should not reprobates and trouble makers to misuse social media. There is an urgency in the part of the government to install effective mechanism and surveillance system which check objectionable content and suspends its transmission through social media. Telecom companies should develop effective techniques to trace the location of the uploading content. Few sections of the media and some users of social networking sites bid to hurt the sentiments of the religious groups through their opinion blogs and posts, which have tendency to provoke, deprave the peaceful ambience and lead the communal unrest. Social networking sites should be boosted to device greater self-check that they contribute lest to large scale law and order disturbance. The state should use all measures to punish those guilty for fueling the communal violence. It is also important that media should know that they can relive the situations and should react responsibly. Bit alone media can never bring about a racial change overnight, support from the part of readers are also required, and try to maintain the harmony in the society and promote the essence of fraternity.
Edited by Hariharan Kumar
[i]Ahmed, S. (2010). The Role of the Media During Communal Riots in India: A Study of the 1984 Sikh Riots and the 2002 Gujarat Riots. Media Asia, 37(2), 103-112
[ii]Montagnese A, ‘Impact Of Social Media On National Security’, Research Paper 2011 STEPI –AE-U-3, Centro Militare di Strategic, p 11.
[iii]Habibullah ,Wajahat. “Social media fanning communal intolerance, misuse needs checking.” The Free Press, Janaury 13, 2014. http://freepressjournal.in/social-media-fanning-communal-intolerance-misuse-needs-checking-wajahat-habibullah/ (accessed February 8, 2014).
[v]“Fake press clippings aggravated communal violence, says U.P.” The Hindu, sec. National, September 10, 2013.
[vi]“Fake press clippings aggravated communal violence, says U.P.” The Hindu, sec. National, September 10, 2013.
[vii]Mohan, Vishwa. “Social media misuse during riots high on NICs agenda.” Times of India Beta, sec. Times nation, September
[ix] Ahmed, S. (2010). The Role of the Media During Communal Riots in India: A Study of the 1984 Sikh Riots and the 2002 Gujarat Riots. Media Asia, 37(2), 103-112
[x] Violent crime control and law enforcement Act,1994 (USA)
[xi] Ballantine, B. (2003). Improving the quality of risk management in the European Union: Risk communication. EPCworkingpaper.
[xii] Ahmed, S. (2010). The Role of the Media During Communal Riots in India: A Study of the 1984 Sikh Riots and the 2002 Gujarat Riots. Media Asia, 37(2), 103-112
[xiii]Ahmed, (2008).Pros and cons of conflicts sensitive reporting. Submitted for Islamabad Policy ResearchInstitute (IPRI) and Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), Sri lanka.
[xiv]Berry, L., Jones, A., Powers, T., & Sava, A. M. (1999). Media interaction with the public in emergency situations:Four case studies. A report prepared underanInteragency Agreement by the Federal Research Division, library of Congress.