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Struggling Against the Virus of Fake News and Hate Speech

A surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, the dissemination of hate speeches and false accusations are also increasing. When the situation requires for all Indians to stand in solidarity, the rising incidents of religious segregation, discrimination, communal riots, and the tussle between the major political parties bring grief for all the Indian residents. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution provides for Freedom of Speech but it comes with reasonable restrictions that are mentioned under Article 19 (2). People are allowed to exercise their rights but not at the cost of the rights of other people. Article 19 (2) therefore restricts the citizens of the country from delivering such speech that is derogatory to the public policy or tends to create hatred towards a community or the government of the country.


Social media has become one of the major means of expressing one's freedom of speech but the manipulation and exaggeration of the situation by its users and circulation of fake news is sowing the seeds of hatred for different communities in the society. Trial by media is one of the biggest sources of fake news. This makes residents believe that a particular community is intentionally spreading the pandemic. They, therefore, blame the whole religious community than blaming a particular organization.


Recently, the plethora of false videos has portrayed the Muslim community in a poor light. Media scanner that checks the authenticity of the news articles has estimated that 69 fake videos have been circulated and at least 28 attacks have been prompted by such online abuse. One of the most popular false #CoronaJihad tweets claims to show a Muslim man from the Delhi congregation intentionally coughing on somebody. The tweet referred to Muslims as “such vile minded people” along with few Anti-Islamic hashtags. Such posts were seen on twitter as well, where a caricature showed a Muslim man pushing a Hindu man off a cliff. All such misinformation and misrepresentation tend to delegitimize the community. The traction of Islamophobic slogans such as #CrushTablighiSpitters, #CoronaJihad, and #BioJihad has further increased the already inflated tensions.


The flow of rumours through social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp lead to the stoking of religious division. The recent, Palgarh Lynching incident is also one of the major examples of the same. Fake news was circulated in the village through WhatsApp that a gang of thieves and organ harvesters was active in the area. Therefore, on seeing a vehicle approaching the village at night when the whole country was under COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, several villagers allegedly attacked the vehicle, killing three innocent people. These included two saints who were only travelling to Surat to attend a funeral of their Guru, Mahant Ramgiri. Even the policemen who tried to intervene were injured in the process and could not stop the violence.


This is sufficient shreds of evidence on the adverse effects of fake reporting, social media misuse, and biased journalism. In such situations, citizens often expect major political parties to be supportive and considerate. But the current scenario is not very encouraging.


The political parties blame each other for any mishaps rather than finding an apt solution to the same. They are often seemed to be divided into religious lines and are thus accused of favouring a particular religion. The actions of the people based on religious differences add fuel to the fire, making it even harder to maintain togetherness which is much needed at this time. Entangling of COVID-19 pandemic with such religious division can be hazardous for the entire nation.


The time requires us to focus upon personal and community sanitation, maintenance of social distancing, and take special care of family’s safety. Every citizen should follow the guidelines issued by the Central Government as well as the global foundations such as the World Health Organization as they are continuously working to find solutions to fight COVID-19.


India has always been a country open to all religions. It is popular across the world for preserving its cultural and religious diversity. The phrase, ‘unity in diversity’ was coined to inculcate tolerance among the people for all the communities. Today, the purpose behind the creation of this phrase is required to be recalled and cherished.


The only thing that can stop the present scenario from getting worse is to consider all the communities, a part of a unified society, wherein each citizen stands for the well-being of the others, respecting everyone’s rights. Further, we Indians have to vow to not engage ourselves in delivering any form of hate speech and stand in unity to fight this global pandemic.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vishakha Somani is currently pursuing law from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

You can contact them at https://www.linkedin.com/in/vishakha-somani-732786195/

Edited by: Swathi Ashok Nair

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