The ethnic violence in Manipur that erupted on May 3 and has left over 160 dead has been largely fuelled by rumours and fake news, according to officials from various security agencies who have been monitoring the situation in the restive northeastern state.
The despicable May 4 incident in Kangpokpi district, where two women were paraded naked and assaulted by several people, was among the spate of sexual attacks that occurred after a picture of a body wrapped in polythene was circulated in the Imphal valley with a false claim that the victim had been murdered by tribals in Churachandpur.
The picture was later found to be that of a woman murdered in the national capital but the fire had engulfed the valley by that time, and what was witnessed the next day put humanity to shame, says an official while referring to the video of the Kangpokpi incident that appeared on social media last week and has sparked massive outrage in the country.
On the same day, barely 30 km away, two more women in their 20s were brutally raped and murdered.
The lawlessness because of the fake picture spread like jungle fire and was one of the reasons for the state government to shut down the Internet on May 3, the officials said.
A section of parties and activists have opposed the suspension of the Internet.
Refusing to interfere, the Supreme Court on July 17 asked the Manipur government to raise its grievance before the high court against the HC’s earlier order on a limited restoration of the Internet in the state.
Analysis by various security agencies engaged in dousing the fire in Manipur, which has been on the boil since May 3, has led to the conclusion that there is “no control on fake or one-sided news being circulated even by local newspapers”.
Citing a recent example, they said one of the prominent dailies had claimed that tribal men, armed with weapons, had planned to attack the members of the majority community at Kwatha village of Chandel district.
Alarmed by the news report, the Manipur police swung into action, only to find that the news report was false.
The police issued a statement saying that there was no attempt to burn any village as reported in some local dailies and again appealed that only verified information in sensitive cases should be published.
The police have dedicated ‘Rumour Free Number’ 9233522822 for verifying any information emerging either through social media or word of mouth and checking the spread of disinformation.
Another video showing tribal youths marching in Churachandpur a few days back was circulated in the valley with subtitles claiming that the tribals will snatch women and children from the majority community.
However, since the video was in Mizo language, which is the most widely spoken of the Kuki-Chin areas, some anti-social elements took advantage and put subtitles to raise tempers in the Imphal valley, where Manipuri Meiteilon is generally spoken.
What was actually spoken in the video was a demand for a separate administration which ended with a tribal hymn, the officials said.
Another fake news being peddled and circulated in the Imphal valley was that some tribals had torched a religious place – Kongba Maru Laiphamlen.
Security agencies took some of the members of the majority community and showed them that no damage had been done to the religious place.
However, armed clashes were reported between the ethnic groups in which two tribals were injured. Things subsided after the news was denied.
Another video was circulated which showed some dead people lying on the ground and termed as members of the majority community mowed down by the tribals. This video was also circulated after the shocking 26-second clip of the assault on two tribal women appeared on social media.
The fact, officials said, was that the dead were members of the majority community who had attempted to burn a tribal village in the hills and were killed in retaliatory action.
In the early phase of violence, a video showing a young woman being brutally assaulted and finally shot to death was circulated with a claim that she was a tribal woman who was tortured by the majority community.
It was immediately clarified that the video was that of a woman killed in Tamu town of Myanmar last year and had no links with the ethnic clashes in Manipur.
Earlier this month, a vehicle, which was a part of Manipur police’s inspector general (CID), was set afire after a fake rumour that some tribals were being escorted out of the Imphal valley.
However, police took strong action and arrested people in this connection,
The majority community held a protest in the national capital where they had shown a woman from their community being targeted by the tribals. However, the picture was that of an Arunachal Pradesh woman who had been abused domestically, the officials said.
Officials feel that with the rumour mills working overtime, it will take a long time before the Internet could be fully restored in the state.
“The semblance of sanity has to arrive first. As of now, we are very far from that,” a senior official said.
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