In a post-truth world where fake news appealing to emotions and personal beliefs rather than established, proven facts is considered more essential for decision-making, the ease with which sentiments and tempers can be manipulated is astonishing. For instance, if one will try a social experiment by posting anti-Hindu/Cow/Hindutva remarks or anti-Muslim/Islam remarks on social media platforms, not only will the seemingly harmless exercise result in jail time but will also probably incite communal passions that will not rest until lives are lost. Destruction will become a keyword, and the instigator-who may be innocent or deliberately guilty of the offence, may tide over the crisis if s/he has majority support, or be lynched texting otherwise. Organised state riots have now turned into a political tool to convert states into party bastions, groups into virulent vote bases, identity markers into divisive limitations, and people into dispensable statistics. Many journalists have noted the rise in rioting immediately before election time, because tense situations are the most politically fruitful. And it may be cynical to say so, but the citizens of a democracy lauding the triumph of the human spirit of freedom, rights and equality, have embraced or learned to live with their roles as pawns. Sometimes, pawns increase in number, congregate and protest against atrocities that denounce their existence as human beings. But soon, agitations peter out and they play out the daily rut of their lives justifying the gory reports they read every day.
The Basirhat riots in West Bengal are not a simple case of centuries of Hindu-Muslim animosity disturbing peace in a contemporary scenario. Admittedly, as has been argued by Hindutva apologists, this riot reversed the victim-aggressor relationship when a Muslim mob (of unknown ‘outsider’ origin) torched shops and ransacked property belonging to Hindus after the Islamophobic Facebook post of a young school-going student did rounds. While CM Mamata Bannerjee accused her tiff with Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi and the BJP’s desire to establish a sound presence in her home state, of causing the riots, BJP hardliners wasted no time retaliating with allegations of ‘Muslim appeasement’. “More than 2000 Muslims attacked Hindu families. Bombs went off at many places and information of Hindu sisters and daughters being raped have also been received. Local workers (of BJP) have said many facilities including five BJP offices were set on fire,” BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya wrote to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, asking for President’s Rule in Bengal. It may be immature to point out that when more serious acts of lynching took place in Dadri, Una and Rajasthan, no demands for President’s Rule were made primarily because these areas were already under acceptable party rule. Moreover, Bannerjee countered further claims of Bangladeshi Muslim interference by saying “Who is in charge of border security, the Centre or the state? Once again I am saying, it is the ploy of the BJP to disturb the peace of the state.” Most importantly, what is the proof for his claims? No news report is mentioning the usage of bombs, or mass sexual violence. Then is this simply an incident of fake news?
The abuse of social media for rumour mongering, what TMC MP Derek O’Brien calls the ‘Rumour Spreading Society’, was evident in the circulation of unverified pictures of a woman being mishandled in public during the riots (taken from a Bhojpuri movie), accounts of women being raped (again, not proven), and the student Souvik Sarkar’s mother being badly injured during the incident (his mother died a few years ago). Moreover, a Bengali RSS paper called Shankhayug published such a story by showing a Pakistani flag in Basirhat, while the falg in question is a green flag commonly used by Muslims, in reality, not one of Pakistan. It is the far-right Hindutva factions and far-right Islamic groups at war here, but the experience ascertains that it is the common man who loses on each front.
Interestingly, the aid offered to the teenager in question begs attention. Souvik was rescued and safely protected by his next-door Muslim neighbour who is also a local Muslim leader. More reports of Muslims collecting money to help out their Hindu friends and acquaintances suffering from losses are slowly emerging, providing some respite from the fracas. But hardly any political party is focusing on that. Instead, we have been plagued with angry matches of abuse and blame being played by the BJP, TMC and the Left. The scuffles between political leaders are more prominent, while the quiet town with strained relations recedes into more silence.
It is a pawn once again.
-Contributed by Tript
Picture Credits: kingston.ac.uk