New Delhi: Last month, Saharanpur district in western Uttar Pradesh was witnessing repeated episodes of violence as caste-based riots broke out between Dalits and Thakurs. However, there was a parallel conflict brewing — on social media. Inflammatory messages on social media platforms, according to police, played a key role in fanning the riots in the restive district. It was due to this that newly appointed Saharanpur SSP Babloo Kumar launched an investigation into social media accounts and handles that were linked to violence.
Speaking to News 18, Kumar said, “Last week, we began our crackdown on social media accounts that were key in inciting violence. The platforms where such messages were being circulated are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp. We have identified 74 Facebook profiles, including individual profiles and pages, 35 Twitter handles and 32 YouTube accounts as troublemakers. These have been taken down for now and we are investigating more such accounts.”
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According to Kumar, “over 90%” of the troublemaker social media accounts belonged to Bhim Army, a radical Dalit outfit led by 30-year-old lawyer Chandrashekhar Azad. “There are very few accounts which posted original content. Most of them either shared or commented on objectionable posts. That is why we will not be indiscriminate in arresting anyone. We have identified 20-30 accounts, including pages, which were posting inflammatory content.”
He added, “Of the profiles that made the posts, nearly all of them have links with the Bhim Army. Only two profiles that made objectionable posts belonged to Thakurs… but if there are more such account, we will find them and punish the administrators. We are looking at all platforms and combing content. It is dangerous for inflammatory content to still be available online. Soon, we will be in a position to make arrests. The IT cell is coordinating with the Special Investigative Team (SIT) which is probing all riot related cases. This has been done to streamline these cases.”
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Bhim Army leaders, despite numerous attempts, were unavailable for comment. Meanwhile, Chandrashekhar, who is wanted by the police, is currently absconding.
While Kumar did not share the exact posts, due to their sensitive nature, he told News18 that they were retributive in nature. “There was a clear intent to incite people. There were posts blaming an entire community for the Shabbirpur case on May 5 and called for revenge. In fact, some posts went further and claimed the police was biased, which was never the case. They even asked people to ‘teach police a lesson’. Similarly, the posts made by Thakurs asked for revenge.”
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The SSP added, “When I visited the village, I found that common people form both sides held no hatred. They just wanted the violence to come to an end. It is clear that these messages are being spread by some organizations that are trying to use these clashes to expand.”