Muzaffarnagar rioters used WhatsApp to fan violence, find police

Written by Dipankar Ghose | Apurva Singh | Apurva | Apurva | apurva | apurva | Updated: Sep 12 2013, 18:19pm hrs
Muzaffarnagar riotsMuzaffarnagar riots: WhatsApp is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which lets users exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. PTI
The investigation into the origin of the violence that gripped Muzaffarnagar for four days has led police to a popular networking application WhatsApp. The police believe a video of two young men being allegedly lynched, which was actually recorded at least two years ago, was passed from phone to phone across the district through this application.

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WhatsApp is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which lets users exchange messages without having to pay for SMS.

On August 27, police said, Gaurav and Sachin knifed Shahbaz in Kawaal village after an argument over a petty issue. Soon after, residents of the village lynched the two boys. A few days later, a video of two boys being beaten did the rounds across the district on the Internet and mobile phones. However, police later determined that the video was two years old and was actually recorded in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. Although police blocked the video on the Internet, it spread through WhatsApp.

Inspector General of Police (Law and Order) R K Vishwakarma said: The video surfaced on August 29 and a day later we had blocked it on the Internet. However, it was passed on from phone to phone through WhatsApp and within a few days, thousands of people had viewed it. This only served to inflame sentiments. He added that this method was indeed a learning experience for the police.

Senior police officials admitted that the application caught then unawares. We did not imagine so many people would have access to the net on their mobile phones and WhatsApp.

Moreover, it is impossible to intercept messages and videos transmitted through this application, a senior officer said.

After four days of violence the police have now arrested several rioters across the district. On questioning those arrested, we found that many of them had a clip of the video on their phones. They admitted that they received the file on WhatsApp and Bluetooth. They all believed that this was indeed the incident at Kawaal, Vishwakarma said.

According to the police, along with the video, the distribution of inflammatory pamphlets fanned the flames. Pamphlets were distributed in several villages within a short span of time. These pamphlets told people to exact revenge for killings that have happened. Also, these pamphlets were distributed by both communities. There were also billboards and posters which told people to save their women and children, a senior police officer said.

All of this culminated in the mahapanchayat held on September 7, which is also when the violence began. Sources in the police said that people came from all over the region to attend it. Here several senior community leaders and politicians made inflammatory speeches that incited violence. We are gathering evidence of what was said and by whom. Almost all those who attended this mahapanchayat were armed with sticks, rods, knives and farm implements, Vishwakarma said.