On a fine day in July, 32-year-old Mohammed Azam Ahmed, was traveling to Handikera village in Karnataka to attend a social gathering. Mohammed Azam, was an engineer at Google working on the company’s project in Hyderabad. He was along with his friends Mohammed Salman, Noor Mohammed, and Qatari national Salham Eidal Kubaisi. The group of friends stopped over for a cup of tea and some evening snacks. Things took a nasty turn for them, when Kubaisi offered chocolates to the children playing nearby. A local saw the incident and alleged that these four men were kidnappers trying to lure kids by offering chocolates. The local villager used WhatsApp to spread the the news and share their photos, and by the time Azam and his friends were leaving, the word spread like wildfire. They somehow managed to escape the scenario but soon the news reached the nearby village. The angry mob of villagers blocked the road with the help of a tree, and in an attempt to escape their car fell into a ditch. Ahmed would not have imagined that this would turn out to be his last day on Earth, as a mob of 30 people attacked him and his friends. While his friends were injured, Ahmed breathed his last after being beaten to death by the mob.
This is a sorry plight that can be seen in several places across India these days. In the last month only, there have more than a dozen cases of mob attacks and lynchings based on the rumours circulated on WhatsApp. From being accused of child trafficking to being blamed for cow slaughter, the fake rumours have led to the lynching of several people. These cases have come to light mostly from the village or backward areas, where the perpetrators have blindly believed in doctored videos and images, before unleashing the wrath on the innocents. They cannot define the difference between a fake or a true story, and would be ready to hurl attacks on anyone who tends to disagree with them. Mobs have taken control of the society creating a sense of fear among people who speak a different language than theirs, who belong to a different culture or religion than theirs, and any one who has a different perspective about society.
One thing that sets India apart from the world was its unity amongst diversity, the fundamental principle on which democracy in India thrived over the years. The all-inclusive nature of the Indian society is being jeopardised, with media houses being flooded by the news of mobs across the country lynching or attacking based on the fake news being spread through social media portals and messaging apps every other day. Mobocracy that roughly translates into the rule or domination of the masses or by the masses is becoming a new norm in India. There is a vigilante mob in every street every corner, patiently waiting to vent out their anger and frustration on anyone they feel “suspicious” off. Waiting to be triggered by the fake news, without even verifying the source of news or giving time to the innocent people to give justification. Lynching has become the new tool to suppress the minorities or people with difference of opinion damaging the ideals of democracy and paving way for “mobocracy”.
The government condoned the recent incidents of mob lynching and have asked the state authorities to look into the matters but the situation has not changed a bit as Prime Minister and most of the senior BJP leaders have remained silent on the issue of mob lynching. There is a growing fear in the society, that is not only a bad omen for the society in general but it is also hampering the social fabric of the country. The Central and State governments have failed to address the menace of mob attacks and lynching while its inactivity to curb the fake news has also given the mobs a licence to attack anybody up until now. Although, WhatsApp recently released an advertisement across various news publication focusing on the do’s and don’ts user should do to tackle the growing extent of fake news that is destabilising the core values of the Indian society. Recently, the Hon’ble Supreme Court asked the government to formulate and enact new laws to combat the problem of mob attacks and lynching, while also taking preventive measures to control the spread of fake news across social media platforms. Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra has termed the growing menace of mob attacks as ‘horrendous acts of mobocracy’ and opined that individuals or mobs in the society cannot take laws into their own hands.