X
Categories: Opinion

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

1 month ago

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

A single 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.

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 Malda, 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.

Tags: Assam lynchingHate crimeslynchingWhatsApp

View Comments

  • It is duty of every human to verify stuff before forwarding. If one can use WhatsApp for blindly forwarding, why doesn't he/she Google and check the authenticity of the post? But we choose the easy way out.

  • Thanks for the facts.
    But why the killings?... How ppl r identifying the kidnappers?... I wonder how can we be sure that the killer r not actually kidnappers?

  • @Vineeth: Then why summon for Analytica data scandal ? I guess the article went over your head...

    • Because Right to Privacy. It was unethical to share the data with a third party without consent.

  • Now the PM needs to make statements about WhatsApp rumors ???

    What is this absurd nonsense ? First it was why is the PM not speaking about X, Y or Z getting lynched for A,B or C reason - now its why is the PM not speaking against some WhatsApp rumor ?

    The Prime Minister of India is not the national "parent" - local Govt is supposed to maintain law and order internally . The Prime Minister is not the national WhatsApp fact-checker .

  • What kind of a ridiculous story is this. Where is the connection between people being lunched and kids getting kidnapped? What evidence is there to suggest this. Journalism is taking a serious downturn in this country. Are we that starved of stories?!

  • Um, what about the morons who believed a WhatsApp message and lynched people? Is ignorance a legitimate excuse for murder now?

    The US, Facebook and mf-ing Zuckerberg need to do something?
    No, they sure as hell don't, this is our problem.

    Sure, the PM could say something, but are we going to then wheel him out to confirm or deny any random, sourceless, info that people might be stupid enough to believe?

    Dude, sad reaccs.

  • Print is giving it political touch which is completely unnecessary.
    People loose their kids and they are afraid hence taking extreme steps.

  • Ravi Shankar Prasad summons Mark Zuckerberg, WhatsApp sends a mass message - Will it be an end to our stupidity?

    Come on Shivam, we cannot blame others for our behaviour. If not for WhatsApp, we would have believed some leaflets, wall paintings, loose talk going around and resorted to what we are doing.

    The current events go on to show that people have no faith in Police, Judiciary, Political Leaders and it is getting manifested like this, apart from the fact that Indians are behaving like pre-historic species.

    Cannot even fathom where this will lead to. Yes, Prime Minister has to intervene before this goes out of hand. Agree with you on this point.

  • This such a poorly, horribly written article. The piece simply jumps from "whatsapp forward about child kidnappings went viral" to "how many more people need to be lynched?" No context, no explanation. So the reader must assume that lynchings are the cause of death. Ok. But how is this related to the video? Why are people being lynched?

    The tirade on how to fix the problem and the false equivalences drawn ("summon Mark Zuckerburg") want for anything constructive or even slightly thought-through.

    I rolled my eyes so hard I think I sprained something.

  • I can't even comprehend the level of stupid someone has to be to write an article like this. How can you hold Whatsapp accountable for this, when they can't read users' private messages because they're end to end encrypted. The people are fucking stupid, how is it fault of Whatsapp or Mark Zuckerberg? I honestly can't believe the author so damn stupid.