Social media has been playing a destructive role in inciting communal violence in India and time has come to check its misuse, National Commission for Minorities chief Wajahat Habibullah has said.
Habihullah also pointed out that riot control protocols have not been revised for decades. "Social media had a key role in the Assam violence and Kishtwar (Jammu) as well. This time (in the Muzaffarnagar riots) also, social media played a major role," Habibullah told IANS in an interview.
"A mechanism is needed to monitor such misuse of social media. The sad part is riot control plans that exist at present were made by (the colonial) British rulers. It has not been modernised to suit present times," said Habihullah, who has been heading the commission since July 2010.
According to Uttar Pradesh Police, a controversial video clip that reportedly showed the lynching of two Hindu Jat boys that was circulated fanned the riots in Muzaffarnagar. But the footage was found to be actually two years old and from Pakistan, the police said.
Sangeet Som of the BJP was accused of circulating the fake video that reportedly escalated the unrest resulting in the communal riots. Som was arrested and later released.
In July 2012, during violence in Assam between indigenous Bodos and Muslims, images were circulated on the social media, fanning panic resulting in the exodus of lakhs of northeastern citizens to their home states from different parts of the country.
Similarly, riots that broke in Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir after Eid celebrations were also followed by postings on the social media. The situation was controlled in time and the riots were contained. "In Kishtwar, the material on social media were noticed and controlled, otherwise the riots would have spread in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir," Habibullah said.
He also lamented that the frequency of riots in the country has increased over the past decade. "Frequency of riots has increased. It is a cause of concern," he said. "When (the 2002) Gujarat riots took place, the country had not had such conflict in years. Gujarat was the worst since independence... since (the 1984) anti-Sikh riots (following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi)," said the former Chief Information Commissioner, who had stepped down in 2009 to become the RTI watchdog in Jammu and Kashmir before taking up his present assignment).
"But I still believe the basic sinuses of India's culture are still intact. The sad part is we don't celebrate our differences any more. But the experience of Muzaffarnagar, when we see Hindus seeking the Muslims to come back, it gives a positive sense".