India is on a lynching spree these days. News of horrendous killings by violent mobs seems to be occupying more space on our national channels and dailies than perhaps Prime Minister’s foreign visits or the widely anticipated 2018 Football World Cup in Russia. Week after week, images and videos of mindless murders have been surfacing from across the country, thereby confirming the belief that intolerance is undoubtedly ingrained in the Indian Society.
While the list of the so-called vigilante killings is long and provide enough room for a one-by-one detailed analysis, the ones in Jharkhand and Assam recently have evoked maximum outrage on social media. The Jharkhand incident was another classic case of cow-vigilantism when two men were murdered on suspicion of stealing buffaloes. As per police, the men were caught ‘red-handed’ by the locals and were beaten to death. The family members of the victim have strongly refuted the allegations. The incident has clear communal connotations. Men seen with bovine or cattle with their distinguishable Muslim identities like skull caps and beard have been an easy prey for so-called cow protection groups.
But the incident in Assam presents a very disturbing picture. Two young men, Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath, who set out towards the picturesque Karbi Anglong district, would have never imagined in their worst nightmares that their love for nature would result in a grisly end to that to their lives. The two men were attacked by machetes after a rumour surfaced on WhatsApp accusing them of being “Child Abductors”. A chilling video clip of the lynching has emerged on social media. It showed Das pleading to the mob with folded hands: “Don’t kill me. Please don’t beat me. I am an Assamese. Please let me go.” But the unruly mob in a blatant display of depravity, tore off their bodies with the weapons in hand. A hoax shared between misguided people resulted in the end of two innocent lives. This particular incident is not an aberration.
Similar killings have been reported from other areas in Assam accusing the victims as sorcerers and cannibals over WhatsApp. And this is where social media has shown one of its ugliest faces to the civilization. Of late, it has become a factory churning out one fake news after another. WhatsApp especially is the hub of all misinformation doing rounds in India. With an ever-expanding smartphone market touching nearly 300 million and a cut-throat competition in the telecom sector resulting in cheap internet like never before, the threat of Whatsapp in India couldn’t have been more profound. “What we are witnessing is mass hysteria. Social media videos and messages are encouraging mobs to target innocent people,” Prakash Singh, a former police official said. “Social media is fueling panic and anarchy in the country. The need right now is to form special security units for cyber monitoring to prevent rumours,” added Singh.
Another aspect is the vigilante nature of such attacks. Suspicion and doubts are very much part of human nature and are unavoidable. But has our faith in institutions shrunk so much that we don’t bother taking the legal or constitutional routes to avail justice? Or is it the toxic nature of the hate sown in our hearts that makes us impatient and transforms us into a blood-thirsty animal?
India is a democracy but is slowly turning into a mobocracy. The rise of fake news, coupled with increasing hate towards the human clan has meant that all disputes are now being settled on the streets with a good amount of blood being spilt in the process. But it sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Innocent lives will be getting lost unless the system reins in rioters and anti-social elements who are hell-bent on establishing their draconian justice-system.