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Archives for : July2018

A Single WhatsApp rumour has killed 29 people in India and nobody cares

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How many more will be lynched before the government wakes up?

Asingle WhatsApp rumour has reportedly taken 29 lives in India since May last year, and there’s very little outrage. Nobody cares.

There is, sadly, no political angle in these killings. There’s no Hindu-Muslim dispute, not even caste. There’s no India-Pakistan, no BJP-Congress, no jihad or Naxalism, no RSS or Kashmir, no statements and counter-statements by politicians.

It’s not a sexy story. How many more people must get lynched to death before the issue becomes a matter of national outrage? One suspects the number of victims could go up to 100 in another two-three months given the frequency of such incidents.

The rumour is about a child-lifting gang. They come, lift your child and run away. From Tamil Nadu to Tripura, the rumour has spread like a wildfire across the country. And, all thanks to WhatsApp, the messenger of choice for a population, which is discovering the internet for the first time. Cheap smartphones and cheaper mobile data packages are introducing millions of Indians to the world of fake news for the first time.

Hundreds of child kidnappers have entered our state, the messages usually warn. Be careful of outsiders, they could be child-lifters working in the organ trade, it continues. These messages usually come along with a video that looks like a CCTV footage in which motorcycle-borne men lift a child away. The video is from Karachi, Pakistan, where it was shot to educate people against child kidnapping. The last bit in the video has been edited out as it circulates across India.

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The immediate solution is obvious. It needs a mass counter-information campaign that reaches every Indian. In Tripura, an announcer hired by the government to dispel the rumours was himself lynched. That tells you about the scale of the counter-information campaign that’s needed. State governments and local police are trying to build awareness, but the task is simply too big.

It would make a difference if the Prime Minister made a statement requesting people to not fall prey to these WhatsApp rumours. But nobody is asking him to do so. It takes several weeks of asking why the PM is silent on an issue before Narendra Modi says something on it.

There hasn’t been a word from home minister Rajnath Singh. Has the home ministry issued any advisory to the states? Not that we know. What has the information and technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad been up to? He was quick to threaten that he would summon Mark Zuckerberg to India when he heard of the Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal. Here’s an issue that has reportedly taken 31 lives and have you heard Ravi Shankar Prasad say a word yet? Is he planning to summon Mark Zuckerberg over this?

India is WhatsApp’s largest market and the Facebook-owned messenger doesn’t even have a spokesperson in India. They have started business accounts though. How difficult is it for them to send a mass message to all WhatsApp users in India, in different languages, asking them to not fall prey to these rumours? The company at the wheel is asleep, and pretending from its high perch in the US that it is not responsible for what people do on their platform. It doesn’t work that way.

Here’s a timeline of the incidents and we’re only counting deaths, not the incidents where people survived the assault.

2017

May: 7 beaten to death in Jharkhand.

2018 so far

10 May: 2 killed in Tamil Nadu.

23 May: Man lynched in Bengaluru.

May 2018: 6 killed in Andhra and Telangana in separate incidents.

8 June: 2 lynched to death in Assam.

8 June: 2 lynched in Aurangabad, Maharashtra.

13 June: Man lynched to death in Malta, West Bengal.

23 June: Man lynched to death in East Midnapore, West Bengal.

26 June: 45-year-old beggar woman killed in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

28 June: 3 lynched to death in Tripura in a single day, including a man hired by the government to go around dispelling rumours.

1 July: 5 lynched in Maharashtra’s Dhule district.

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Mumbai- Police ‘stop’ the  #Aadhaar public hearing in Bandra, venue shifted at the last minute

Mumbai

Even as the 12-digit Aadhaar number is progressively restricting our individual liberties, a public hearing on Aadhaar, as a part of Break Aadhaar Chains campaign, was allegedly stopped by Bandra Police at National College Conference Hall in Bandra on Saturday. The venue had to be shifted at the eleventh hour to Peasants and Workers Party office in Mahim.

According to the organisers, the cops informed the National College Principal Dinesh Panjwani to not let the event take place for no rhyme or reason. Kamayani Mahabal, the organiser of the event, said, “Why were cops present at the public meeting which was supposed to be held in closed doors? It was a panel where people raised their grievances on how they are robbed of their rights for not possessing Aadhaar card. There was nothing anti-national in it.”

Dinesh Panjwani, the Principal of National College, maintained that the event was a tentative booking done by the former Principal. “I had no idea of any such event. It was when the police called, I followed up and learnt about it. Neither did the former Principal send us any letter given or any booking charges were paid without which how would the event take place?” he said. When asked if the cops had arrived at the college, Panjwani denied and added, “We did receive a call from them enquiring about the event and I mentioned that the booking is tentative.”

Upon contacting Bandra Senior Inspector Anavkar, he stated that the National College falls under Khar Police jurisdiction. Sanjay More, Senior Inspector, Khar Police Station, denied having interfered with the programme. “We have no reason to interfere or to object to such an event. We will not stop anyone from giving a speech. There was no call made. Ask them (organisers) if they had any receipt of the booking – it was a tentative booking. It’s their internal problem,” he said.

Interestingly, Kamayani mentioned how some cops were present throughout the event and took interest in the hearing.

The public hearing comprised of noted panelists – Retd. Justice Hosbet Suresh, Advocate Bapoo Malchom, Professor R Ramakumar (Tata Institute of Social Sciences), and Journalist Sucheta Dalal to presented their views on Aadhaar and the citizen’s relationship with the government. However, the last minute change of venue did affect the attendance to some extent.

Several people from Raigarh, Satara, Sindudurg had attended the event. They presented many cases which show how the mandate of possessing an Aadhaar card is restricting their access to government schemes. In Thane’s Shahpur block, over 200 pregnant tribal women have been denied of their allowance under the Janani Suraksha Yojana for not having an Aadhaar card; several were denied ration for over 27 months for improper authentication of Aadhaar.

Professor Ramakumar, from “There is no written law stating that the Aadhaar Card is mandatory. Time and again the Supreme Court has ruled that no person should be denied any service for not possessing an Aadhaar number. This has been consistently violated by the Indian state. It has been made mandatory despite the apex court’s verdict. That’s depriving people of their livelihood in a big way.”

When asked of the interference of the police, Ramakumar said, “The police persuaded the Principal to cancel the event. This sort of interference was bizarre and completely undemocratic. The event was being held indoors where the police had no business to interfere. In fact, the event was a great success.”

 

FPJ

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