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Rumours on Facebook, WhatsApp Fueled Violence That Swallowed 2 Lives In Assam

Assam violence: Even after the incident, social media, mostly Facebook, was flooded with hate comments.

Guwahati:  At a weekly market in Dengaon, a small tribal hamlet along NH-36 that connects Assam’s Nagaon to Dimapur in Nagaland, Aitram Subba sold chocolates to the two Assamese men who were beaten to death by a mob last Friday. From his shop, he saw them going towards the Kangthilangso waterfalls, about 15 km from Dengaon. A few hours later, he saw their bodies being taken away.

“For the last few days, there were strong rumours about child kidnappers active in the area. These two men came in the evening, took chocolates and went inside. I didn’t find anything unusual and I didn’t know whether they would be entering the villages,” said Aitram Subba, shopkeeper from Dengaon.

The videos that went viral showed the two men being thrashed in Assam’s Karbi Anglong by local tribals. A crackdown has led to several arrests — those who were part of the mob, including the main accused, as well as those who were spreading fake news, rumours and communal hatred on social media after the gruesome incident.

The cluster of villages beyond Dengaon, which is mostly inhabited by tribals from Karbi, Bodo and other margin communities, was once infested by insurgents. The inhabitants are poor, power is erratic and there is no access to newspapers. The mobile internet is slowly catching up.

A WhatsApp message asking people to be “vigilant as a gang was trying to kidnap children” did the rounds for a fortnight. It spread like wildfire. Even phone calls alerted people about the same.

On Friday, the news about the presence of sound engineer Nilotpal Das and his businessmen friend Abhijit Nath near the waterfall was also communicated to all.

“There was a lot of shouting in the village that child kidnappers have come. There were phone calls from nearby Kangthilangdo village asking villagers that the two kidnappers need to be stopped” said Pramila, a local from Panjuri village where the incident took place.

The victims had an altercation with a few youngsters and sensing trouble, they drove towards Panjuri where a huge mob was waiting for them. The mob attacked their SUV, pulled them out, beat them with rods and sticks. The two men pleaded with the attackers that they were Assamese, but the mob didn’t listen to them. The bloodied men died on their way to hospital.

“We saw what happened from a distance. There were youngsters with sticks, sharp weapons who had come from nearby villages. We got really scared,” said Ganeshwari Khaklary, local villager.

After the incident, social media, mostly Facebook, was flooded with hate comments. The local BJP lawmaker admits that the rumour was very strong and even he told people to remain watchful.

“I told them that this might not be true but also told to keep careful,” said MLA Joyram Engleng.

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