Assam lynching, Part 2: Deaths of two innocents put focus on social media rumours, demand for justice reaches foreign shores

Editor's note: This series examines how social media rumours falsely accusing two young Assamese men, Abhijeet Nath and Nilotpal Das, led to their lynching. The incident reflects not just the marginalisation of the Karbi community to which the alleged perpetrators belong, but also points at fissures in a society that's grappling with the complexities posed by the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to unite dominant Assamese and all ethnic tribes in the state.

Guwahati: Social media networks like Facebook and mass messaging services like WhatsApp are yet again facing criticism in the aftermath of the mob lynching of Abhijeet Nath and Nilotpal Das in Assam’s Karbi Anglong. Questions are being raised on the volatility of these services when it comes to circulating fake news and propagating mass violence.

Ironically though, it is on social media that thousands from across the world are joining in to ensure justice is delivered to the duo from Assam who lost their lives to suspicion and mob fury while holidaying in one of the state’s picturesque district.

Barely within four days of setting up the Facebook page 'Justice for Nilotpal and Abhijeet', it garnered over 1 lakh members.

People pay their respects to Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath. Image courtesy Justice for Nilotpal and Abhijeet

People pay their respects to Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath. Image courtesy Justice for Nilotpal and Abhijeet

"The cry is for humanity," said Ankur Saikia, page admin and businessman, and a close friend of the two youths. Outrage, shock and protests had followed the killing across Assam, condemning the fake news labelling the men "child abductors".

‘India is not safe, the world believes’

People from the US, Iran, Russia, Philippines, Thailand, Nepal and several other countries stood with placards, condemning the lynchings.

"Nilotpal Das always told the world to come to India and enjoy the beautiful country and was killed by his own countrymen. The whole world is talking about this, the world thinks India is not safe and after this, everyone believes it... Please, citizens of India, this is your country... You need to stand united to make your country safer for everyone, irrespective of religion, caste, colour, country…" said Ellene Lemonade from Russia, Nilotpal’s friend.

In India, messages of support and calls for justice poured in from Sikkim, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Puducherry.

The police have made at least 30 arrests so far. Prime accused Alphajoz Timung, alias Alpha, was arrested from Bheloghat Beygaon in Karbi Anglong on Wednesday. He had made capital use of the existing fear to instigate mob fury and settle scores after a petty feud with the duo.

"There is a massive sharing of posts among members and discussions on submitting a memorandum to the PMO. People are willing to donate for the cause," said Aditya Dixit, who lived with Nilotpal in Goa.

Mitra Phukan, noted Assamese writer, however, argues, "It is not social media but how we use it…It is public mentality…Seen this even when there was no social media. This mindset needs to change. Sadistic pleasure out of other’s grief through rumours is social sickness."

‘A powerful tool’

Even as debates raged around responsible use of and behaviour on social media, Bikram Hanse, general secretary of Karbi Students' Union said, "Social media might be a volatile zone but is also a powerful tool, as it enables the flow of information from the grassroots."

Insisting on anonymity, another Karbi youth said, "The lynchings brought to the fore the problems of Karbi Anglong. Some people are trying to instigate the villagers."

Local reports suggest there is illegal mining of quartz and timber smuggling, and these mafias reportedly preach to the villagers that it is their own property. Though extremely picturesque, Karbi Anglong hasn’t developed much. Locals say there is a reluctance to promote tourism, mainly due to these mafias.

Saikia and his team are headed to Karbi Anglong to ensure fast-track investigations. Over 10 vehicles escorted them to the spot where the duo was killed.

A member of Saikia's team said they want to get to the root of the issue. "We want to tell the tribals that we are not taking away anything. We are one of them, and want to help bring out the best in them," the member said. "Most of them are innocent and brainwashed into believing that non-tribals are trying to take over their territory. A fear psychosis is being instilled in their minds…"

Using social media to reach a wider audience, the team hopes to educate tribals in handling social media responsibly, campaign for more schools here, fight superstition, the existing xenophobia and fear psychosis.

The Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council has reportedly decided to install the victims’ statues as a mark of respect and offer Rs 5 lakh as compensation to each of their families.

Investigations are still loose and slow. "Nilotpal’s father wanted to file a detailed second FIR, but the police flatly declined. They have no details of the investigation and respond as if it is a petty theft case," said Saikia.

But he added that there is complete faith in the investigating team from Guwahati, led by Additional DGP Mukesh Agarwal.

Superintendent of Police, Karbi Anglong, V Sivaprasad Ganjala said, "We have seized a few things and looking for further reports."

Bureaucrats and politicians have little concern for development here, and cite the example of land conflicts that happened decades ago and have no relevance today, said Saikia, adding, "There is barely any electricity in many villages. The people’s lives are limited to eating, drinking and unproductive behaviour. This incident has pushed Karbi-Anglong five years behind."

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Assam lynching, Part 1: Gruesome murders fuel ire against Karbis even as calls for peace flood social media

The author is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.


Updated Date: Jun 14, 2018 22:15 PM

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