Jharkhand lynching: Community leaders, activists blame ‘curse of social media’ | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Jharkhand lynching: Community leaders, activists blame ‘curse of social media’

A WhatsApp message warning against child lifters preyed on parents’ fears and triggered the killing spree in Jharkhand.

india Updated: May 22, 2017 17:25 IST
B Vijay Murty
Securities forces try to control a mob protesting against the lynching of nine men on suspicion of child lifting in Jamshedpur on Saturday.
Securities forces try to control a mob protesting against the lynching of nine men on suspicion of child lifting in Jamshedpur on Saturday. (Parwaz Khan/ HT photo )

Community leaders, village heads and social activists blame social media for the lynching of nine men on suspicion of child lifting in Jharkhand, a killing spree that has vitiated ties between tribals and the rest of the population.

Over the last nine days nine innocent people have been beaten to death by frenzied mobs in four separate incidents in tribal-dominated East Singhbhum and Seraikela-Kharsawan districts.

A WhatsApp message warning against gangs of traffickers accompanied with graphic pictures of wounded and murdered children whipped up fears, driving parents over the edge.

“This is the curse of social media, which has become a frenzy in villages. For nearly a fortnight, people were guarding villages with weapons,” a tribal leader and BJP state committee member Ramesh Hansda said on Saturday.

He visited some of the violence-hit areas and was trying to calm people’s fear but it was a sensitive issue.

High rate of illiteracy among tribals is a problem, too. People believe every message or picture they receive, without questioning their veracity.

A stranger is viewed with suspicion and is vulnerable.

Police, who have not been able to trace the origin of the widely shared message, have been taken by surprise.

They have not received a single complaint of a child going missing or being abducted in the two areas in the last many days, police said.

As HT travelled to violence-hit villages, tribal youth showed pictures of children, mutilated and killed, received on their WhatsApp groups.

“These pictures are being shared widely in tribal pockets. The gullible men and women are reacting angrily to these pictures and taking the law into their hands,” said Manoj Purty, a resident of Kudada village in East Singhbhum.

The message asks parents to be vigilant and cites the arrest of suspected child lifters in nearby Jaduguda and Rakha mines.

Hansda, whose BJP is the senior partner in the ruling coalition in the mineral-rich state, has been asked by the party to reach out to tribals to calm their fears.

“I sense a conspiracy behind these developments. While I totally disapprove of the mindless killings, I want the administration to dig deep and find out who sowed the seeds of hatred into the innocent tribals’ minds,” former member of Parliament and a prominent tribal leader Salkhan Murmu said.

Local administration, intellectuals, social workers and journalists should come forward to create awareness, he said.

The fear for their children was so deep that people were not willing to listen to any political leader or social worker, Amar Murmu, a resident of Kudada village, said.

“Whoever tries to stop them from attacking strangers is branded an agent of child-lifters and is threatened with similar consequences,” he said.

Situation would not have spun out of control had police paid attention to villagers’ complaints.

“The police and administration should have been serious when villagers told them about the rumours and WhatsApp messages,” said Sini Soren mukhiya of Uttar Kumardi village.

Though five of the victims were Muslims and four Hindus, the murders have also hit ties between the two communities. In Jamshedpur, one of the biggest industrial towns of the state, youngsters from both sides on Saturday blocked roads and attacked police with stones and bricks.