In Punjab’s Ropar district, rumours floating on social media platforms have led to announcements being made from several village gurdwaras warning residents against ‘unidentified men’ of a particular community roaming in vicinity and spitting at gates of houses.
The Indian Express went around several villages in the Nurpur Bedi block and learnt that such announcements have been made over the past several days. While in some villages, the warnings have also mentioned the name of a particular community, others have restricted themselves to warning against outsiders.
Gujjar community persons, who are present in substantial numbers in the vicinity of several villages in the district, have been at the receiving end with people refusing to buy milk from them.
Joga Singh of village Lodhe Nangal has been making such announcements in his village and accepted that he had done so. Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, Joga Singh said, “I had been receiving phone calls from many persons warning against people roaming in the area who were spitting at gates of houses. I did not take the name of any particular community or religion, but I just warned residents to clean their gates, maintain hygiene and distance and also to take care of their children.”
Almost all villages in the district have set up barricades at the approach roads of the village. While these have been set up to check the entry of unknown persons into the villages, these have also become monitoring stations to look for ‘men who spit’.
“We do not know if the messages that we have received on WhatsApp are true or not. But we are not going to take any chances. We are keeping our eyes peeled to look out for outsiders who may not be Punjabis. We cannot take any chances in an atmosphere such as this one,” said a youth in one village who did not want to be named.
When contacted, SSP Ropar, Swapan Sharma said that there had been reports of rumour mongering on social media platforms. “There have been some audio recordings doing the rounds but I have not heard of announcements being made from village gurdwara. I shall get this checked,” he said.
Rumours have also been floating in the area that some men from neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh have entered the district with devious plans and hence there is a need for high degree of security.
“The rumour mills have made the residents of the area wary and suspicious. Combined with the fear of coronavirus, the levels of insecurity have gone up,” said a resident of village Dhamana.
Meanwhile, cracking down on spread of rumours and panic in the light of COVID-19 crisis, the Punjab Police have registered 34 cases of fake news on social media, while also taking strong action against those targeting a particular community in an attempt to disturb the state’s peace.
As many as 27 of the 34 cases registered between March 21 and April 6, 2020, relate to WhatsApp forwards and misinformation, the state DGP said in a statement. TikTok forwards and audio messages spreading fake news are also under watch of the police.
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