Several WhatsApp audio messages doing the rounds in Tamil Nadu, deepening caste divides and some even inciting violence.
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“He is a paraiyar, we are kallar. With that feeling, you must go,” says a man on the audio WhatsApp message, adding, “You will definitely have to go, don’t compromise on this.” Paraiyars in Tamil Nadu are Dalits and Kallars consider themselves superior, above Dalits in the caste pyramid. This is a part of several such audio messages doing the rounds in Tamil Nadu, deepening caste divides and some even inciting violence.

This audio message is believed to have been released in August, after the Chief of VCK, a Dalit-based political party, Thol. Thirumavalan visited the village of Vadaseri in Thanjavur district for a party event. The speaker identifies himself as Punyamurthy from Dubai, and is encouraging his community members to participate in a protest against Thirumavalan’s visit to the village, lamenting the fact that he was not in town to attend the protest. The audio clipping, along with two other such clippings, have come to light following Sruthisagar Yamunan’s report in The Hindu on Monday.

“Today he came to Vadaseri, tomorrow he will come to our Kallar villages also. Thanjavur is Kallar territory, and today if Thirumavalan is working against one of our communities, then we should unite against him,” says Punyamurthy in the WhatsApp audio.

The sentiments behind the audio message are in line with the ground reality in Tamil Nadu. When Thirumavalan was on his way to visit the village in August, 12 men were arrested for conspiring to attack him with stones and beer bottles. In this case too, the police got a tipoff because the plans were being discussed on WhatsApp groups, according to media reports.

Such WhatsApp messages have become extremely popular among political and caste-based groups to incited hatred, disseminate information and mobilise support for campaigns, protests and even concerted physical attacks.

In yet another audio clipping which has emerged, a man who identifies himself has Senguttavan Vandayar says that it is to intimidate the Kallar community that the Dalits got Thirumavalavan to hold a party event in Vadaseri. He alleges that Thirumavalavan too is trying to incite hatred through his public events and encouraging people to marry outside their caste, and says that he must not be allowed to hold party events in the village. The same person, in another short WhatsApp audio broadcast, is asking everyone to come out on the streets on the way to Vadaseri, and says “let anything happen anywhere, but we must step out”. Caste-Hindu groups have often alleged and argued that Dalit groups too indulge in hate-speech.

Using WhatsApp messages for such activities is not new to Tamil Nadu. The News Minute has been consistently reporting on how a murder-accused, OBC-fringe-group leader Yuvaraj based in Namakkal has been using WhatsApp audio messages to incite his fringe-group and be in touch with them while he runs from the police. You can read about it here, and his subsequent audio messages here. In one of the messages, Yuvaraj had dismissed the murder of a Dalit boy Gokulraj as ‘no big deal’, and asked his community members to prepare for future battles.

Even during the Muzzafarnagar riots in UP, in the run up to the 2014 elections, WhatsApp groups were used to incite the riots, according to the police.

The user-interface of WhatsApp has made it extremely easy and swift for groups to disseminate hate-messages. WhatsApp allows people to record audio messages and spread it among a select number of people. It is a targeted mass-broadcast. Moreover, since the message can be recorded, there is no need to type, which makes it even easier for users who are not adept at using smart-phones. At the push of the button, these passion-inciting messages are passed on to a select group of people, with the raw emotions in them intact.

But how easy is to control such hate-speech in messaging services?

It is a question with no easy answers, especially since any blanket ban on using WhatsApp or mobile internet is also seen as a serious breach of freedom of expression. Government surveillance of such WhatsApp groups is also on shaky grounds since such powers could be used to violate the privacy of users. High ranking intelligence officials have told The News Minute that the TN government has the wherewithal to track WhatsApp audios. “It is more difficult compared to the phone tapping since it is based on VoIP, but it can be done and it is being done,” said the senior officer, however adding that it is not possible to control the dissemination of such messages in real time.  The police also say that action cannot be taken unless specific complaints are given.

VCK General Secretary Ravikumar says that action must be taken against those who spread such message if it is found that the hate-speech led to actual violence. “And in the view of the upcoming elections, we suspect that certain caste-based political parties will incite further violence to polarise people, and WhatsApp groups are going to be used increasingly,” he says.

Further, Ravikumar says that the government needs to be more proactive in such cases of hate speech. “India is a signatory of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and it mandates that we have a law against hate speech, and it is about time we had one to book those who indulge in it,” he says.

It is also being suggested that to prevent the outbreak of violence based on such messages, the TN government should block mobile internet usage in the select violence-prone areas in Tamil Nadu when tempers rise. 

 

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