What was unthinkable in Gujarat even in February, is not just happening but gathering pace. Over 400 FIRs have been lodged by members of the Muslim community against TV channels, print media and social media accounts engaged in communal messaging against the community.
The FIRs are being backed by screen shots, newspaper clippings and video clips. Muslim lawyers have taken to Facebook to tell the community how to go about it and how to lodge e-complaints with the police if they do not want to visit a police station.
The campaign has immediately silenced a large section of hate mongers. Many of them have deactivated their social media accounts, afraid that police enquiries would reflect poorly with their employers and employability.
The campaign was triggered by the vicious campaign by the media blaming the Tablighi Jamaat and by extension Muslims for spreading the coronavirus in the country.
Shamshad Pathan of ‘Alpsankhyak Adhikar Manch’, a lawyer by training, persuaded the community to approach the police. The first case was lodged in Anand district and has gradually spread across the state. FIRs have been filed at Porbandar, Idar, Patan, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot among other places.
“Till Saturday evening police had registered 421 FIRs for hate mongering and spreading rumours about COVID-19 against more than 700 people. More than 80 per cent of them are related to hate campaign in mainstream and social media,” Pathan informs.
Shamshad took to holding Facebook Live sessions to explain how police could be approached. In case the police dragged their feet in lodging FIRs, they should lodge e-complaints on the state police website, he told them.
“People coming forward to speak out for themselves is a major development. Youngsters who were scared of approaching a constable are now fearlessly calling up the top brass of the police; this was unthinkable till a couple of months ago,” Shamshad told this correspondent.
Said Munaf Ahmed Mullaji, an Information Technology (IT) professional, “I was perturbed to find most of the hate mongers connected across social media platforms. I could see how a single hate video got instantly circulated across twitter, instagram, whatsapp and facebook under different names in a very organised way. I also discovered that administrators of social media groups were closely linked and had connections with the top brass of various Hindutva groups and organisations. I tried approaching the government portal cybercrime.gov.in but did not find it of much use.” He eventually approached the local police station in person.
Nazir Patel of the Ahmedabad Task Force, which has members from all the communities, pointed out, “There is a lot of anger against media trial of the Tablighis and the community at large. You cannot be a justice delivering body when there are courts in the country. Some of my very close non-Muslim friends posted hate content on social media, holding the community responsible for the spread of Corona virus and there were appeals against employing Muslims.”
Nazir has approached the local police with 13 complaints till now. “One of the fall outs of our calling out hate mongering and approaching the police has been hate mongers deleting not only their posts but their social media accounts as well. This shows that they are scared.”
The flurry of tweets from the elite in Middle Eastern countries expressing anger against the vilification of Muslim community for the COVID-19 outbreak in India has also led to a scare amongst many hate mongers, who now realise that spreading hate could boomerang on their employment.