“Is your name Sandeep? Tell me your real
name,” shouts a man off camera, as he films his conversation with another man,
who appears to be a street hawker.
nervously tries to pass himself off as “Sandeep,” before admitting his name is
Muslims are selling these kinds of things,” his interrogator said. “Money is
getting stolen in villages. You are making Hindu children sick by selling
content like this three-minute video is frequently shared in the Whatsapp group
of the Residential Welfare society of a Delhi colony, a Supreme Court lawyer
who resides in the colony told HuffPost India.
after Narendra Modi first swept to power, and months after his re-election in a
polarising general election, anti-Muslim rhetoric has been normalised to point
that it is freely shared in WhatsApp groups meant to coordinate the activities
of Resident Welfare Association (RWA), in professional groups set up by work
colleagues, and in family groups.
related content — like jokes, videos, and memes directed at politicians — have
stopped since the 2019 Lok Sabha election concluded in May, but communally
charged, anti-Muslim propaganda continues.
“This is an
organised attempt,” said Pratik Sinha, the founder of fact-checking website Alt
News.“The communal misinformation has become more aggressive now. There is a
2019 kept Alt News’s fact-checking team busy with election related news, six of
the seven viral fake news stories Alt News fact-checked in June targeted
Reuters study on news habits in India found that 52% of their respondents
received their news from WhatsApp, and 34% of news consumers trusted news from
social media (compared to 36% of news consumers who expressed faith in the
political parties were using this “lack of digital literacy” — where people do
not distinguish between real and fake news — to create false and divisive
decentralised and private nature of these WhatsApp groups makes it hard to pin
down exactly who is pumping this venom of communal hate through the veins of
the Indian polity.
this year, HuffPost India reported on a secretive BJP-financed company devoted
to producing propaganda that could not easily be traced back to the ruling
Court lawyer, who allowed HuffPost India to peek through his WhatsApp groups,
has lived in this residential society for the past ten years.
people started using WhatsApp, he recalled, residents created these groups to
coordinate society events, and pass on useful information.
anti-Muslim propaganda, he said, started after 2014. One message, which was
doing the rounds in 2015, invited people to join a training program as a
volunteer of the BJP’s campaign through WhatsApp.
message said that your progress would depend upon how active you would be with
the campaign of BJP in social media,” he recalled. “I strongly believe that
such people are the result of that drive.”
people,” the lawyer said, are the few people in the group who repeatedly post
hateful anti-Muslim messages.
Court lawyer says that he votes for the BJP because his family is loyal to the
party. He liked former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his “vision,”
infrastructure development, building highways, interlinking rivers, and his
efforts to resolve the complex issue of Kashmir.
always been a liberal person and I rate myself as secular. I liked Vajpayee for
his vision but always had an inclination towards socialism adopted by Congress.
However, I always believe that their understanding of secularism is flawed,” he
voter is not a fan of how the Hindu nationalist party’s present brand of
politics. He believes, however, that it is Congress’s failure to separate
religion from politics that is responsible for BJP’s success.
Modi because I feel that for immediate gain he has divided the country on
religion. BJP was a Hindutva party but now it has turned itself into
anti-Muslim party and is propagating something which intends to make our
thinking regressive,” he said.
no one objects to the hateful messages targeting Muslims.
is that his residential society does not have a single Muslim family.
reason, the lawyer said, is that no one wants to get into a messy debate or
argument with the people who post these messages.
to remain in such groups as it’s easier to raise some issues relating to
society, and also to be updated with society’s activities,” he said. “But such
messages keep coming and no one ever resists or objects.”
this year, HuffPost India reported on the messages shared in the WhatsApp
groups of a Meerut-based businessman and BJP supporter, which were mostly
targeting Muslims, and Congress Party leaders, especially Rahul Gandhi. Earlier
this week, he too said that while election-related content had stopped, the
communally-charged messages are still coming.
message said, “While casting his vote, he becomes Muslim. While taking
benefits, a minority. In a bomb blast, an innocent.”
On the one
hand, the Modi-led BJP government says it is rolling out a major outreach
program for the employment, education and empowerment of minorities, and in
banning triple talaq, claims to have corrected a “historical wrong done to
Muslim women.” On the other, the public
discourse under its stewardship casts Muslims and Islam as a threat.
messages in the WhatsApp group of the Delhi-based residential society denigrate
and demonise Muslims in many contexts.
which was posted shortly after the video of the man harassing the Muslim
hawker, was an anecdote in which a teacher asks students to name the world’s
most famous monument of love.
student named the Taj Mahal in Agra, another one objects and picks the Ram Setu
bridge, a bridge between India and Sri Lanka, which many Hindus believe was
constructed by Hindu god Ram in his campaign to rescue his wife from Ravan.
not cut off the hands of the monkeys that helped him construct the bridge. He
lovingly took them back to Ayodhya. What Shah Jahan did was not love. It was
cruelty and madness,” the student said, dissing the 16th century Mughal emperor
who had the Taj Mahal constructed for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
have found no evidence to back the gruesome tale of Shah Jahan severing the
hands of the artisans and craftsmen who built the Taj Mahal.
message, a very long one, rails against former vice president Hamid Ansari,
who, in 2017, said that Indian Muslims were feeling uneasy and scared.
message says, “Challenge any Muslim in Hindustan to give the names of five
generations. The fifth generation will be Hindu.”
Another message is a tale about how a snake, who used to live in a
mosque, and was chased away by Muslim, and ultimately found a safe haven
wrapped around a Shivling in a temple. “This is the difference between Islam
Another message refers to a recent the Hindu-Muslim flare up over
parking a scooter in Lal Kuan in Chawri Bazaar, located in Old Delhi, last
month. It says, “Lal Kuan was the right step taken by Hindus.”
One such Islamophobic letter written to Chief
Secratary, Ministry of Home affairs getting circulated on WhatsApp
government has seized on the rapid proliferation of hate speech and fake news,
ironically spread by representatives of the ruling BJP, to push Whatsapp to
give law enforcement agencies access to the platform.
prompted fears that any fixes are simply going to increase censorship at a time
when civil liberties are already under threat.
is possible when people object.
someone tried posting similar messages in Whatsapp group of Supreme Court
lawyers, people objected, this lawyer said.
person had to stop,” he said.
Source: The Huffington Post