There is anger and retaliatory passion in the social space in Assam over the brutal murder of two innocent young men by a frenzied mob of villagers at a normally sleepy village in Dokmoka area of Karbi Anglong district in Assam.
The participants of the crime, who are normally peace loving people, perhaps hardly knew the enormity of their crime.
A later report said that their passions were worked up by a rumour that two child-lifters were on prowl and it was conveyed by someone through mobile phone.
Whether the informer was the originator of the rumour or he himself was a trustful victim of the rumour in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is yet to be divulged by the investigating agency.
But whatever may be the case, it seems most probable that a rumour was circulating in the area for sometime prior to the incident that child-lifters had been active.
The villagers seemed to be ready to catch the imaginary miscreant/s in a mood of punishment and as soon as the car was sighted after the receipt of the information, the agitated people just fell upon the poor victims in a frenzy that generally happened in a mob psychology.
They did not care to find the truth of the information conveyed. Technology has invaded human activities so much even in economically backward areas that mobile phones and television channels have become the ubiquitous modes of communication even in remote areas everywhere in this country.
It has positive impacts but is prone to misuse too. These days there is surfeit of fake news circulated not only by vested interests with ulterior motives but also by pranksters to derive pleasure from dark humour.
The mischievous elements work on the gullibility of the normally peace-loving people, who are anxious to earn peace by removing the cause of their social anxiety.
In Assam, a folktale of child-lifters known as ‘Xopadhora‘ is so common that it is easy for the vested interests to exploit it to serve their evil ends.
In some tribal areas, belief in witchcraft is so common that in many parts of Assam, innocent men and women have been targeted and killed by people trusting motivated rumours spread by quarters entertaining some grudge against such persons.
In the instant case, the incident happened in a lightly policed hilly area and the victims died before any help could reach them.
Even their mobile phones were seized by some people from the mob.
The inhuman passion during the incident rose so high that when one of the victim’s anxious girlfriend rang him up to contact him, someone informed her of the murder in devilish pleasure using the victim’s mobile.
The mob mentality was so affective that someone videographed the entire incident as a pleasurable show without having any conscience that he could have informed the authority even when he was recording the brutal act.
Of course, in his attempt to derive vicarious pleasure, he provided a source of vital information to police about the main participants of the attack as was recorded by him.
He cannot be said to be an innocent by-stander but is also an observer-participant.
When I say that the area is lightly policed, I do not use it as a justification for police inaction, if any.
At least one thing can be noticed that there was poor police-community relationship and they had no information about the rumour of ‘Xopadhora‘ circulating in the area at least for sometime.
This aspect of police-community communicating channel needs to be addressed by the senior hierarchy of Assam Police.
There may be many other lapses and only a Commission of Inquiry can find the lapses and can recommend remedy.
The media has a role to play.
In a competitive visual media, TRP has become the main motivator rather than the social responsibility of peace and harmony enjoined on all stakeholders.
It was painful to see that visuals of the gruesome act were shown again and again without giving a thought that such exposure may rouse retaliatory passion with reactionary effect.
In Assam it is a delicate time.
Ethno-communal harmony is under stress due to a combination of contesting narratives of aspirations and competitions.
In such an atmosphere, if restraint is not exercised, an incident of such inhumanity may be the cause of communal passion that may harm social harmony with irreparable damage.
The civil society should understand the delicate situation and should play an active role in ensuring that ethno-communal harmony is not disturbed.
If fraternal relationship is disturbed among the indigenous communities, (including between the Assamese and the Karbis), for whatever reasons, it will weaken our current struggle against the illegal migrants that is the major cause of worry for all indigenous communities.
What happened is definitely a heinous act by certain people but rousing ethno-communal passion over the incident would harm only fraternal harmony leaving a scar that may be difficult to heal.
The incident, however, has to be condemned in no uncertain terms but reactions have to be restrained with due equanimity.
We urge the authorities concerned to promptly investigate the case, submit charge-sheet against the guilty within a reasonable time and get the case tried by a special court for the sake of speedy justice.
As a conscientious citizen, I feel it my duty to say that any provocative post, particularly video clips received through WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or any other social media should be treated cautiously and they should not be passed routinely to friends so that the chain of large-scale circulation of provocative posts can be put paid to.
Everyone should guard against fake news that may cause mistrust, tension and ethno-communal disharmony.
Further, civil society may call upon the government to set up an inquiry commission, preferably by a retired judge, to go into all aspects of this and related incidents including lapses on the part of police and civil administration.
In an atmosphere of social anxiety, suspicion, uncertainty etc, a rumour is a potent poison.
Civil society and the government need to be alert against this. Vigilantism is no vigilance in such an atmosphere, but rational handling is a mature response.
Harekrishna Deka is former DGP of Assam and a renowned critic and poet. He can be reached at: [email protected]