Make no mistake. Let’s not hold WhatsApp responsible for incidents of mob lynching across the country. WhatsApp is not killing people. People are killing people. There was no WhatsApp or social media until late 2010, yet there had been spates of incidents of communal violence and hate crimes since independence leaving more than a million people dead.
The Union Government has reached out to WhatsApp urging them to introduce measures to tackle fake news. Ironically, the Government itself thrives on fake news and rumor mongering, with the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers being the biggest propagandists of fake news.
You would see a specific pattern in all the incidents of mob lynchings and hate crimes across the country – the victims are mostly either Muslims, Dalits or daily wage laborers, the police is helpless and sometimes even complicit, and the chief conspirator is somehow related to the ruling dispensation.
As somebody who has grown up hearing random racist and Islamophobic slurs, I realize that the hatred towards minorities, particularly Muslims was always there, although it was not evidently manifested earlier. This atmosphere of hatred has now seen a sharp rise in the recent years, with the pan-Indian rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power.
There is a systematic process of promoting hatred and bigotry towards minorities and Dalits, thereby trying to alienate them. It has been fostered in all possible ways – fake news of beef consumption, fake news of young Muslims’ links to ISI and ISIS, fake videos of anti-India slogans, fake pictures of Pakistan flags being hoisted, fake statistics on reservations, etc. When you read thousands of comments by young people on social media spewing venom and celebrating hate crimes, you realize that the problem is deep-seated and highly institutionalized.
The hate-motivation comes from a prejudice that minorities are “outsiders” and hence, perceived as a threat to the country and that Dalits are stealing their share of opportunities and hence, perceived as detrimental to the progress of the country. It came as no surprise when a Union Minister referred to the former President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam “a nationalist, DESPITE being a Muslim.”
Minorities and Dalits are now living at the mercy of the majority. Anybody, anywhere – on a train or a university or at an outing or one’s own house – can be pulled over and lynched to death, with no culpability and no fear of conviction.
The real problem
The real problem lies not with WhatsApp or social media, but within us – as both individuals as well as a society. We rejoice at killing people; we seek thrill in making videos of them being killed; we seek sexual pleasure in wanting to watch the rape video of an 8 year-old girl.
What do you expect when the lynchings are not just being justified but openly celebrated? The perpetrators are draped in the National flag and given the status of a “martyr”. They are garlanded by the ministers in the Government and given a hero’s welcome. Most importantly, the silence of the Prime Minister and top-most functionaries in the Government not just emboldens them, but provides them with a sense of impunity. Such is the “progressive” times, and such is the “civilized” society we are living in.
The solution doesn’t lie in just enabling more regulations on WhatsApp or introducing new labels for forwarded messages. People simply must feel bigoted, and if it’s not WhatsApp, it will be another platform. No amounts of measures are going to help, when the society itself has become inhumane and intolerant. And, this has not happened in a year or two, but is a result of a long haul. The seeds of hatred and distrust have been embedded in our minds for decades now.