Author: Saadut
•11:48 AM

After close to some 30,000 people had fled cities in South India following rumors of reprisal attacks on them for the Assam violence where Bodo groups had been reportedly involved in attacks against the local Muslim population. Train loads of North Easterners living in south Indian cities, especially from Bangalore were seen to be fleeing homewards. And very soon India came out blaming Pakistan for the rumors that led to this mass exodus.  While the simmering of communal tensions between the Bodo and non Bodo ethnic groups in Assam had been going for quite long, the communal violence there had taken a surge for some weeks now. And this ethic strife and internal community conflict had surely not been engineered overnight to give support and reasons for these rumors. The Assam ethnic strife apart, this rumor mongering was seen as part of a bigger plan to create currents of communal divisions and friction elsewhere in India. But was Pakistan really behind these rumors as claimed by India? Even this blame by India that Pakistan had fueled these rumors (and exodus) suffered from inconsistencies. 

While BBC News reported Indian Home Secretary RK Singh saying "The bulk of these messages, of these clips, have their origin in our western neighbour, in Pakistan," However Group Editor NDTV, Barkha Dutt  replied on twitter to another twitter handle (@bdutt on 19th August 11:29 PM) “home secretary told our reporters that it’s not the smses but the doctored online images (originated from Pakistan)”. Was the government (and Mr. Singh) shuffling between ‘rumor smses originated from Pakistan” and “morphed imaged uploaded from Pakistan” because the quick blame had to be pinned somewhere; hence Pakistan was the convenient post to stick it on? Surely there is a hell lot of difference between ‘bulk smses’ and ‘upload of morphed images’, two different forms of communication. It is common knowledge that all voice and sms communication traffic from Pakistan towards India is likely to be monitored by security agencies, so how could all these ‘bulk rumor sms’es’ have gone unnoticed in the first instance? (even if we ignore the statement given by Mr. Singh to NDTV). And to note that most of the rumor smses in south India were known to have been delivered to specific north Easterners mobile numbers, prompting questions of who could have known about the ethic segregation of mobile numbers in such a scenario? 

In yet another report on FirstPost  Mr. R.K Singh has been quoted as saying “Morphed images and photographs of people who had died in cyclones and earthquakes were circulated as victims of violence in Myanmar in 76 websites. All these websites have been blocked. 34 more sites were identified and they will also be blocked soon,” What Mr. Singh did not tell the press that the morphed images of Myanmar killings were already in circulation even before the Assam cycle of violence had spiraled out, much before the North Easterners exodus from Bangalore and other south India cities had happened. And what connection did India draw from morphed images of Myanmar killings and the Assam violence? In fact a Pakistani blogger in the Express Tribune Pakistan had already pointed to this ‘morphed and doctored image circulation’ (on 19th July, 2012) much before the Assam violent events reached a crescendo or much before the rumor exodus had happened. Such morphed images had been used earlier to draw attention to Myanmar Muslim killings (irrespective of the fact that these images had been wrongly attributed and used to portray and inflate them, the killings in Myanmar were actually happening). Where was the truth in India’s claim that such images were uploaded with the sole intention of creating panic in Assam and north eastern community in rest of India?  Even if we were to take the statement of Mr. Singh at its face value, the fact remains that an overwhelming population of North Easterners living in south Indian cities belong to the basic level of worker or migrant class with little or no access to internet. How could such a sparse and low internet footprint among them prompt a huge number of populations to migrate within a matter of hours? In fact there have already been reports on TV channels that most of the special trains that transported these migrations had been specially pre booked. Did the booking of these special trains point to a pre judgment of the events that were likely going to take place?  So many coincidences and claims are unbelievably astounding!

Incidentally at the same time there were other videos also making rounds; gory and violent videos misrepresented to promote inter community strife against Muslims in India. In one such incident journalist Sadanand Dhume (@dhume01 on 16th August, 9.40PM) identified the provoking video tweeted by ‘Internet Hindu’ where a video originally from Indonesia had been presented as footage of ‘violence in Assam by Muslims against Bodos’. Although these videos could also have been going viral on internet giving impetus to the fear psychosis, ironically Government of India and Indian media made no effort to recognize this threat or mitigate it. Since such threats came from right winged forces within India, it would provide India and its media no excuse for neighbor bashing.  

Assam has been burning for long with growing number of incidents against Muslims by Bodos, violence which has already left more than 80 people dead and displaced more than 400,000. The state government has been seen to ‘act’ inefficiently, unable to control this violence and a sense of fear ruling over communities there. And it was this ‘foreign hand’ opportunity that Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi grabbed in his weak defense by stating "From the beginning I have stated that some foreign hands are involved. It is not merely a clash between Bodos and minorities. The Union Home ministry report that Pakistani elements were involved has vindicated our stand,” Chief Minister’s statement blaming Pakistan not withstanding, on Thursday (23rd August) Bodoland People’s Front (an ally of the ruling Congress) MLA Pradeep Brahma was arrested for his involvement in Assam violence. Accused of leading rioting groups against Muslims, there were already seven cases registered against the MLA.

Indian government soon started a process for scanning of Internet content and in this effort blocked close to 245 sites by Monday (20th August). However the claims of India (both Mr. R.K Singh and Mr Tarun Gogoi) and the Indian Media were further punctured when it was found that there was hardly any mention of Assam and its violence in the identified and blocked sites. According to reports not more than one-fifth of these sites contained any reference to Assam or the people of Northeast and only a couple of the blocked web pages had been found to contain images or videos related to Assam violence. (Indian Express ‘No Assam mention in most blocked sites’ 22 Aug, 2012) According to the same report (information provided by government) less than 50 web pages contained hate messages against people of Northeast and almost all these hateful references and incitements had originated from internet users in India. Infact in yet another report it was stated that ‘Agencies have also found clues indicating a large number of SMSs that spread panic among the northeast Indians living across the country were also generated by fringe Hindu groups’. (Times of India, ‘20% banned hate sites put up by Hindu groups’ 23rd August, 2012) This report also claimed that ‘A recent input from Bangalore about three women planning to bomb a train turned out to be a red herring. Later, the input was traced to an activist of Bajrang Dal.’ So much for the ‘blame it on Pakistan’ game! 

Not only had the blame on Pakistan been hugely exaggerated here, but it was also used by India to deflect attention from the real issues of ethic strife facing Assam. There is no denying the fact that there are some extreme groups in Pakistan with an anti India approach, but surely not everything wrong that happens in India originates from Pakistan.  

Indian has its own ethic and community fault lines, coming out of centuries or decades of unaddressed social cracks; which get further deepened by political opportunism that political parties see in these ethnic divisions and the governance apathy that follows such political opportunism. With a refusal to identify and accept these division realities, India is only moving further away from resolving them. And blaming the neighbor for all such internal fires is surely not going to douse them anytime soon. 

Time India looked within.

23rd August, 2012
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