Lakhimpur MP Ranee Narah in Lok Sabha on Friday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 17: The government finally swung into action today by banning bulk SMS and MMS for 15 days to stem rumour-mongering while surfers spilled beans on websites with doctored images to fan communal flames.
The government had so far seemed out of sync to block rumours that led to exodus of people from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and other cities since Wednesday and instil confidence among people. In fact, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said he would ensure trains for people returning to the Northeast. The scene changed today as coherence was visible in Parliament and in North Block.
Union home secretary R.K. Singh said, “We have asked for a 15-day ban on bulk SMS and MMS. We are monitoring social websites to identify those who are spreading rumours. Exodus has stopped a bit and state governments, particularly Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, are doing good work. We have sent advisory to all states.” The CBI and a special investigation team of Mumbai police are also investigating the larger conspiracy angle of all events from Assam to Pune.
Websites like http://mumblingminion.blogspot.in, which under the headline “Manufacturing Affliction” showed gruesome pictures of alleged “Muslims killed in Myanmar”, were actually altered. One of the photographs is of a group of monks overseeing disposal of hundreds of corpses. The caption reads: “The body of Muslims slaughtered by Buddhist (Barma)”.
The Mumbai protest organised by Raza Academy was not only for Muslims killed in Assam but also against atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. There have been sporadic clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine over the past few months.
However, as the website spills the beans, the maroon-robed monks seen on the website are Tibetans and not Burmese and the “killed” people are victims of the deadly earthquake that hit Tibet in April 2010 and not Rohingyas. Informing the Centre of this, the central Tibetan administration of the Tibetan government-in-exile expressed concern over the propaganda earlier this week.
This “blogwar” on the Net showed that there were responsible surfers, too. DMK MP Kanimozhi pointed out in Rajya Sabha today that suggestions to control social media was unfair. “You cannot go back on technology, you cannot go back in time,” she said.
“It was this propaganda that fanned flames in Mumbai…,” said Shambhu Singh, joint secretary (Northeast) in the ministry of home affairs.
But this only seems to be the tip of the iceberg as the photograph has appeared on several websites, especially in Islamic states.
The propaganda clubbed the purported “Myanmar” pictures with India’s Northeast, which neighbours Myanmar, leading to stray attacks such as the stabbing of a Tibetan youth in Karnataka on Tuesday.
These may have been the inspiration behind a violent protest in Lucknow today by a mob of 2,000 that marched towards the Assembly building and damaged cars, stoned the police, attacked journalists, vandalised government offices and forcibly shut shops.
They were shouting slogans against the violence in Assam and Myanmar. Principal secretary (home) R.M. Srivastava’s vehicle came under attack but he escaped unhurt. Similar protests were seen in Allahabad and Kanpur.
As the government woke up to the danger of rumour-mongering through mobile phone messages, the home ministry asked service providers to stop transmission of all messages above 20kB. After the bulk SMS ban, a mobile phone user will not be able to send more than five SMSs in a batch.