Monday, 20 August 2012

India’s ethnic tension – a kind of cyber -war

India needs to urgently brace up for the new set of internal challenges. The best solution to avoid them will be to ensure corruption free governance.

What’s happening in India is deeply unfortunate: people of north- east (mostly oriental looking) fleeing cities in southern and western India simply because of building rumour mills of ethnic violence spawned by MMS and social media tools.

Social media's potential to incite violence is not new. Last year, during the London riots, organized groups and individuals used Blackberry mobile phones and other social media tools to spread insidious messages. Elsewhere, in the Middle East during the Arab revolution, social media has been a boon to circumvent the authorities’ regulation of the media.

 But the Indian case is different in the sense that a ethnic violence along the religious lines - that should have been easily controlled by the authorities - in a remote part of the country has suddenly erupted into a nationwide crisis. The Indian Government has blamed elements in Pakistan and gone on to ban up to 250 websites suspected of adding grist to the rumours. This is possibly the first case of a new type cyber- war with an international dimension.

 But the recent events in India are alarming for a number of reasons.  It has shown that the threat of cyber –war can go beyond the wires, and can be easily used to disrupt social harmony in a country like India, where a large number of mobile phone consumers( the real targets of MMS generated rumours) may not be educated.

The radical mob that took part in vandalism in Mumbai to protest against the violence on Muslims in Assam were nothing but a group of possibly unemployed youth whose religious sentiments were fanned presumably by some extremist elements.

Likewise, most people who are fleeing the southern states are mostly migrant economic workers who have moved to the bigger cities post –globalization in search of better jobs.  People of some sections  of  north-east India have always felt alienated from the main stream because of socio-economic and political reasons. But years of insurgency and economic deprivation on the face of India’s economic growth has made them look for better opportunities in other parts of the country.

Whilst many migrated, and contributed to the of economy of the host state, what this incident has highlighted is that there is a great degree of mistrust between the people of the north –east and  the rest of country because of  a number of sometimes shallow idelogical reasons; and more importantly, the absolute apathy of the intelligentsia and the government to address these  vexed issues. It is not surprising when a foreign journalist recently said that Kabul looks like a luxury when compared with Imphal.

There are broadly few lessons for the policy makers from this incident: 
  •  Race and ethnic tensions in India are volatile. Unless there is a careful distribution of wealth including management of water and other natural resources, this could be the beginning of a new trend of ethnic violence waiting to happen.
  • Indian government needs to do more to check illegal migration especially from Bangladesh and protect the rights of the small tribal groups. Religious leaders should be encouraged play a more active role to preserve religious harmony.
  • There is a need for Indian state to do a bit of image management aimed at strengthening the secular credentials of the country. People of the north-east must be assured in all possible manner that they enjoy all the rights like any other citizen from other parts of the country.
  • The threat of cyber war on national security is real. Information and communication
    technology(ICT) should be used to counter the negative effects of social media. There is a need to launch a campaign to educate people about the ill effects of social media.
  • The real forces and motives of this crisis are at best open to speculation. It is really up to liberal and secular citizens to come forward and urge the people of the country to remain united against the forces that are increasingly trying to fuel religious and ethnic tensions.
India is going through a great economic and cultural revolution of unprecedented scale. It is an unequal society trying to re-orient itself with the dynamics of cultural changes sweeping the country.  At the very core, what India needs is good corruption free governance if it wishes to see itself as a force to reckon with in the 21st century.