Rumours can sometimes achieve what the deadliest weapons can’t do. The sectarian riots of Muzaffarnagar in 2013 are a glaring example of this. Two years later, a rumour about cow slaughter claimed a man’s life in Bisada village, again creating a rift between Muslims and Hindus.
It is believed that rumours were the key cause of the violence that rocked rural areas of western Uttar Pradesh two years, rupturing the social fabric and instilling a sense of insecurity among many.
Like the rumour about cow slaughter at Bisada near Dadri, it is the general perception that violence in the rural areas of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in September 2013 was triggered by a video clip depicting the killing of two youngsters, which was uploaded on social media by a politician.
The violence claimed more than 64 lives and left over 50,000 homeless. The video was later found to be fake.
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Pankaj Malik, the Congress MLA from Shamli, recalls that police sent messages in bulk and cautioned people about the fake video. But rumours spread faster than efforts to control the damage.
Malik feels rumours had a big role in triggering the confrontation between rival groups. “Every day a new rumour spread in the area during the riots,” he says, recalling how a rumour about the supply of arms was spread against two reputed Muslim medicos of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli and against a superintendent of police for favouring one community during the riots.
Shamsaad Hussain, president of Danga Peedit Sangharsh Samiti, recalls how rumours were spread about the mass killing of participants of Nangla Mandaud panchayat on September 7, 2013.
Taking note of the situation, officials conceived the idea of setting up a social media lab to keep watch on rumours being spread through social media.
“We can now examine troublemaking messages and their trend on social media and cops can nab the wrongdoers in time to counter his or her mischievous act,” says Ramit Sharma, former deputy inspector general of police of Meerut range.