Communal violence in Bengal: how the (social) media helps trigger incidents

Vernacular media's alleged "failure" to report these incidents has created a vacuum, which is readily filled by right-wing elements associated with Hindu and Muslim organizations which have - according to police officers - "made things worse".

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | Updated: October 17, 2016 6:48 pm
bengal communal clash, Bengal violence, Bengal communal violence, communal clash north 24 parganas bengal, hazinagar communal clash, west bengal communal clash, indian express, india news Opposition parties across the board, from the BJP on the right to the Left and the Congress, allege that the TMC government has “taken steps” to ensure that the Bengali-media doesn’t cover riots.

In this age of social media, the grim business of inciting communal violence has changed drastically. Instead of calls from religious institutions, the message comes straight into your phone. Hatred and venom, available at the touch of a button.

This has been the gradual change in the nature of communal violence, not just in West Bengal but also other states such as Uttar Pradesh during the last five years. In Bengal, where the robust Bengali-language media adopts a policy described by one senior editor as, “the not giving of too much publicity” to communal incidents in a bid to ensure “the violence doesn’t spread” – this becomes a problem.

WATCH VIDEO: West Bengal: Homes Ransacked In Communal Violence: Here’s What Happened

Opposition parties across the board, from the BJP on the right to the Left and the Congress, allege that the TMC government has “taken steps” to ensure that the Bengali-media doesn’t cover riots. However, the vernacular media’s alleged “failure” to report these incidents has created a vacuum, which is readily filled by right-wing elements associated with Hindu and Muslim organizations which have – according to police officers – “made things worse”.

One senior police officer, posted at Hazinagar explained, “It is true that it is impossible to have a complete media blackout anymore. Social media, WhatsApp and other avenues allow people to spread their message, unedited, which in turn makes it very difficult for us to monitor the situation. For instance, we’re ensuring that no one from outside comes into this area bearing arms or even with aim of creating mischief. But how can you stop someone from sending a video? The problem with reporting is that no matter how factually and objectively, you write your piece or show the news – you’ll end up taking a side.”

Police officers who’ve been posted at Hazinagar since the incidence of communal violence at Naihati from October 12, have been dealing with this problem every day. At least three different messages – none of them verified – have been circulated. While two show Hindu youths claiming that they’ve been attacked, a third shows a Muslim youth claiming that he’s had to flee despite the local government’s support. The police have confirmed that all three videos are from “dubious sources” while another senior police officer alleged that the role played by ultra-nationalist Hindu organization, Hindu Samahati was key in “spreading violence”. Tapan Ghosh, the chief of Hindu Samhati has since maintained that the allegations are false and his social media posts said, “I have done my duty”.

Further misinformation has revolved around the October 6 order by Justice Dipankar Dutta, which had deemed arbitrary the prohibition order on idol immersion due to Muharram, saying it was a “clear endeavour” by the West Bengal government to “appease the minority section of the public”.

While the local BJP councillor claimed that the order had removed all restrictions from idol immersions – the order states that the lifting of restrictions would apply to “household pujas and pujas organized by apartment owners in their respective complexes” and not community pujas. Prior to October 12, residents at Hazinagar maintained, that the confusion regarding the immersion and the consequent order from the Calcutta HC had further created tension in the area. This too was broadcast across social media, maintained the police.

This is not new for Bengal. In the past few years, particularly the last two, the state has seen an upsurge in communal violence that has at its centre, the use of social media and the police’s relative inability to deal with it.

Take for instance, the Illambazar riots sparked off by an objectionable Facebook post that a 21-year-old student had posted on his Facebook wall in March. Within hours, the knowledge of this post had left his entire village fuming. In a few days, the entire district was seething and it wasn’t until the violence actually began that the understaffed police officers at the Illambazar police station realized that there was something wrong.

The police reacted predictably, arresting the boy and promising swift action. “But this is where things went wrong. There wasn’t enough publicity regarding the arrest. So people came from outside, seething in anger,” said the officer. BJP president Dilip Ghosh visited the area, exhorting people to “chop off the heads” of anti-nationalists which only added fuel to the fire. Further violence followed and by the time the administration had disabled wireless communication in the area, one person was dead.

A senior editor who had worked at two leading Bengali dailies – Bartaman and Pratidin, said that the traditional belief that Bengal was immune to communal politics was fast-changing. Among allegations of “minority appeasement” directed at the TMC and the BJP’s efforts to occupy the political vacuum created after the weakening of the Left has resulted, he said, “in a deadly cocktail”. “When you take the political scenario, the overt religious polarization in the country, use of social media to create violence and of course electoral politics – caution needs to be exercised during the reportage of riots. But to ignore such incidents is perhaps no longer viable.”

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  1. M
    MyTake
    Oct 17, 2016 at 6:41 pm
    Gift of Mamataj Begum to the people who elected her! lt;br/gt;Welcome Mamataj Begum! lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If not for anything else, Islamlt;br/gt;must be counting on you to prove its famous line, "Women got half the brain of a man"!! What a genius you are!!
    Reply
    1. R
      Rashid khan
      Dec 17, 2016 at 6:18 am
      Indian express we Muslim are not civilized community shame I am born a Muslim family
      Reply
      1. S
        Syed aslam
        Oct 19, 2016 at 3:41 pm
        this must be stop cant blame each other community they are stupid peoples fighting for religions Islam Never says that go and make processions on the road it is the stupid peoples. of the country where they dont know value of the country no discipline. peoples are just making differences. any thing harm should avoid and implement the rule for no road rallies, no processions, nothing on the road side any religious activity should be on private properties. this has to stop new law has to implement. people do how they want they will make it abuse others
        Reply
        1. A
          Ahriff
          Dec 28, 2016 at 5:47 am
          laa haulaa walaa khuwwathaa illa billaahi.
          Reply
          1. J
            Jaideep Gupta
            Oct 17, 2016 at 2:02 pm
            Now It has been a trend in media if there is riot blame Hindu organisation. this is the most easy thing.Though Hindus are worst sufferers.
            Reply
            1. L
              Loveall
              Oct 17, 2016 at 2:44 pm
              I can understand ur stand for hindu organisations ,its just like how stanis support LET and Jaish .....they have hafeez sayeed we have togadia ....both spreading hatred but supported hugely by people in name of religion ......really sad that humanity is dying a slow death
              Reply
              1. L
                Loveall
                Oct 17, 2016 at 1:40 pm
                Welcome to the new India !!! And dont dare to call us intolerant .......if we look into the history British have used this hatred tool to their advantage and now its make in india politicians have divided us very nicely and literally all educated ,uneducated have fallen into the trap......if this continues we dont need pak or china to ruin us we l do it ourself ......mera desh badal raha hai aage badh raha hai digital ho raha hai .......
                Reply
                1. V
                  Venkataraman Jagadesan
                  Oct 17, 2016 at 11:45 pm
                  The crux of the problem is the ruler. If the ruler is firm and straight forward every one whether it is from right ,left or center people will have faith and unfortunately Madam has proved that from Left Tyrany it has become TMC tyrany. Unless the politicians do not indulge in inciting the riots think can be sorted out. Jai HInd.
                  Reply
                  1. K
                    Krishnan Iyer
                    Oct 17, 2016 at 6:27 pm
                    Muharram is a day that is commemorated by Shias. They are very peaceful people. Some jihadi group must have attacked the Shia procession and put the blame on Hindus.
                    Reply
                    1. B
                      Baba
                      Oct 17, 2016 at 11:43 pm
                      New name of West Bengal..... West Bangalistaan...
                      Reply
                      1. L
                        L bhadrapati Devi
                        Oct 17, 2016 at 6:11 pm
                        It is time to naturalize Muslim community to be adapted in other tolerant religious communities. They are highly intolerant community in the world. Their intolerant atude is manifested as political mobilization supporting Goonda Mamataj Begum.
                        Reply
                        1. L
                          L bhadrapati Devi
                          Oct 17, 2016 at 6:07 pm
                          Mamataj Begum has planned to make WB another Islamic state where the right to practice Durga Puma ritual was prevented in support of Muslim Muharram. She should advice her minority Muslim to be tolerant at seeing idol rather than forcing the idol worshipping to stop.
                          Reply
                          1. M
                            Manohar Sharma
                            Oct 17, 2016 at 3:50 pm
                            Mamta Banerjee is converted to Mumtaj Begum. Shame on her.
                            Reply
                            1. M
                              Manoj
                              Oct 22, 2016 at 7:59 pm
                              Disgustingly pathetic article...lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;More worried about how to stop news of beheading of Dalits by Muslims rather than worrying about atrocities and violence on Dalits with state and police connivance.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;This BARBARIC JOURNALISM has to end. We need to terminate such journalism
                              Reply
                              1. N
                                NS
                                Oct 23, 2016 at 6:30 am
                                That ancestors of this F.ILTHY man pretending to be a journalist were ever Hindu should be a matter of great sorrow for all hinfus
                                Reply
                                1. P
                                  PRAVIN S
                                  Oct 17, 2016 at 2:46 pm
                                  ch or machaye shor
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    rajul sharma
                                    Oct 18, 2016 at 6:47 am
                                    Visited Kolkata ,it is a complete joke to call it a metropolitan. I talked to several Taxiwallas. All of them were so fearful talking against TMC.First the Communists let Bangladeshi Muslims in and Mamta Bani is completely sild out to them. There were reports how local TMC MLA told hindus to just flee or die. Bangladeshi Muslims, who are used to kill , maim and loot Hindus in their country have started doing the same here.
                                    Reply
                                    1. R
                                      Rohini
                                      Oct 23, 2016 at 7:39 pm
                                      Article is too dignified a name for this farce.
                                      Reply
                                      1. H
                                        Harsh Kedia
                                        Oct 18, 2016 at 8:44 am
                                        Very nice. Same newspaper was spreading news about Rohit, Gujarat, Dadri.. and now you are singing altogether a different tune. Is it mere coincidence or deliberate ploy to shift attention.
                                        Reply
                                        1. V
                                          Vikas Singhal
                                          Oct 18, 2016 at 8:43 am
                                          The headlines should be "How main stream media ignore the communal violence in Bengal"
                                          Reply
                                          1. V
                                            Vedic_Citizen
                                            Oct 17, 2016 at 3:57 pm
                                            Abduction, forced conversion,molestations are norms of Jihad as witnessed in Malappuram(1921) and Noakhali(1946). If such things have not happened this time, it is just because Sangh Parivar is in place.
                                            Reply
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