CONCERNED OVER the alleged misuse of social media to spread communal violence, the Union Home Ministry on Monday wrote to state governments and union territories, urging them to maintain strict vigil. It also directed the police to take strict action against those who attempt to weaken the secular fabric by exploiting religious emotions.
Maintaining that the law and order is a state subject, the Home Ministry said it was concerned that various incidents, with communal overtones, were taking place across the country, including the recent communal violence at Baduria and Basirhat in North-24 Parganas. Ministry officials said the directives were communicated to the states to prevent any communal flare-up using fake videos or posts.
The ministry, headed by Special Secretary (Internal Security) Rina Mitra, also discussed the prevailing situation in Basirhat with West Bengal Additional Director General of Police Anuj Sharma on Monday, said officials. The police allegedly told the Centre that several fake posts, WhatsApp messages and videos have purportedly been used to instigate youths in the district.
“Some posts on social media purportedly used images from 2002 Gujarat riots and a Bhojpuri film, Aurat Khilona Hai, to provoke locals but their narrative were successfully countered,” said an official. The tension in Basirhat had erupted over a Facebook post showing “objectionable images’’ linked to the Prophet. The state government has suspended Internet services not only in Baduria but adjoining areas of Swarupnagar, Deganga and Basirhat. The ministry urged the state police to issue stern warning to social media users, who are spreading rumours or inflammatory messages.
“We have asked the state to mount a vigil and if needed, set up peace committees at villages and blocks with adequate representation from each communities,” a senior official said. Officials said setting up of a cyber surveillance system was also suggested by the Centre to counter rumours. “We have seen in the past that the use of IT Act against offenders help curb such incidents… The Centre is worried that after West Bengal, such incidents may spread to other parts of the country,” the official said.
The ministry said it is still awaiting a detailed report from the West Bengal government over the exact sequence of event leading to the spread of violence in Basirhat and adjoining areas. Meanwhile, at the meeting between Home Ministry and Bengal Police officials, steps taken to restore normalcy in the Hills, where GJM is spearheading the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland, were also reviewed. Sources said ministry officials stressed the need for “rationalisation” of forces through proper deployment of security personnel at sensitive places.