“Some persons from a particular community have come to our village. They are throwing currency notes and water bottles which are coronavirus infected in our village to spread the disease. Nobody should pick the same, otherwise the disease will spread in our village.”
This was an announcement made from three community loudspeakers by three different individuals in Fatehbad’s Samain village at around 2 am on the intervening night of April 3 and 4. Many villagers stepped out of their houses as speakers blared the warning, but found nothing to substantiate the claims.
But police in its probe found a clear attempt to spread fear and hate against a particular community and booked three village residents — Manoj Kumar, Mohan Lal and Satish under Sections 505 (2) (promoting enmity between communities with rumours) and 188 (disobedience of prohibitory orders) of the IPC and section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
But Samain is not the only case. Over the past four days, three such cases have surfaced in Hisar and Fatehabad district in which police have taken action. The instances come close on the heels of rise in coronavirus cases linked to the Tablighi Jammat congregation in Delhi.
Fatehabad SP Rajesh Kumar told The Indian Express that all three accused from Samain village have been arrested. “We will lodge one more FIR which has similar nature. We have come to know about a video in which claim was made that a person from a minority community has landed in Peeli Mandori village to spread coronavirus. We have not found any truth behind the claims made in the video. Now, we will lodge an FIR against the person who prepared this video,” said the SP.
Third case belongs to a village of neighbouring Hisar district in which the police have lodged an FIR against a villager, Ravinder Sharma. In this case, a minority community member complained to the police alleging Sharma was posting fake audio message to target their community. “This audio message has already spread in many villages,” alleged the complainant.
A Hisar-based lawyer, Vikram Mittal, said, “Few days back, an audio clip was in circulation on WhatsApp groups in which it was claimed that coronavirus infected currency notes of Rs 2,000 were thrown in Chamar Kheda village of Hisar district. After circulation of the audio, the villagers came out from their houses and did not sleep for entire night. However, it was apparent from the talk that the audio was planted and was an attempt to disturb the communal harmony in the village. The tough stand by the police is sending a clear signal to such elements that such attempts won’t be tolerated.”
On Tuesday, villagers from Dehman village of Fatehabad district called health officials to take samples of a person belonging to the minority community who had landed in the village from Sikkar (Rajasthan) last week. “We have found him fit as there are no symptoms of coronavirus in him. We have convinced the villagers that there is no point in taking his samples in this situation,” a health official said. Initially, some villagers even demanded that the person along with his family be sent to a government school for isolation, but the health officials said that he can be quarantined at his home itself.
Meanwhile, the state police said that as many as 32 persons have been arrested while 56 FIRs have been lodged for posting rumours, fake news and hate messages during the lockdown. In addition, said Haryana DGP Manoj Yadava, 12 cases have been registered regarding the incidents of attacks on religious minorities in which 25 accused have been arrested so far.
Home Minister Anil Vij had instructed the police department to initiate stern action against those circulating fake, misleading and unverified information about COVID-19 on social media so that potential confusion and panic among the general public could be prevented. “All such rumour-mongers have been booked under different sections of IPC and the IT Act,” said the police.
Directing all the District Police Chiefs (CPs/SPs) to show “zero tolerance” towards any attempt to spread rumours or otherwise vitiate communal harmony, Yadava asked them to accord highest importance to prevent such kind of incidents by taking stern action against anti-social elements in their respective jurisdiction.
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