A day after the government said that morphed online photos that created a scare among the North-East community originated from Pakistan, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Sunday raised the issue with his counterpart in Islamabad, Rehman Malik. Mr Shinde, in a telephonic conversation with Interior Minister Malik, expressed concern over the "misuse of social media networking sites by elements based in Pakistan so as to whip up communal sentiments in India".
Mr Shinde also "sought Pakistan's full cooperation in checking and neutralizing such elements".
Pakistan, though, has denied the charges. Speaking to NDTV, Mr Malik said, "No bulk SMS messages to India on Assam have originated from Pak...told Shinde Pakistan knows Assam issue only from media." He further said that he promised Mr Shinde that Pakistan would cooperate "if India provides evidence."
On Saturday, Home secretary RK Singh had said, "We have got a hold on
the wrong messages, false images...Photos of people who had died in
cyclones etc. were circulated as victims of violence in Myanmar and
Bodoland...We want people to know that bulk of this was done from
Pakistan. We will raise this issue with Pakistan. I am certain they will
decline it but our technical team is certain."
There are no longer special trains being organized from cities like Bangalore and Pune to Guwahati, and many of those who reached the Assam capital said they would return soon to those cities to get back to work or college.
An initial report by the government, which NDTV has gained exclusive access to, shows how social media was used to spread panic among people from the North-East, living in different parts of the country. The report says that a socio-political Pakistani group may have begun the process of doctoring images and spreading them across social networking sites like Facebook; a few Indian groups, though, are also suspected to have played a role. The report further says that pictures of earthquakes in Thailand and Tibet were morphed and circulated that triggered the panic.
The report goes on to say that the uploading and the circulation of the online content containing morphed images began on July 13, around the time when the clashes in Assam, that has led to over 70 deaths and displaced over four lakh people, started.
It also adds that fake profiles were created around the end of last month to push the online content aggressively on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reportedly provoke violence. Several Indians have been found to have created these fake profiles to circulate pictures and link clashes in Myanmar and Assam.
The reports further states that an extremist group "is waging an online campaign after the outbreak of violent clashes in Myanmar." The report also details how some of the right-wing extremists retaliated once the campaign of morphed pictures started.
Over 70 websites that were allegedly circulating inflammatory content have been blocked by the government, says the report.
Seven people have been identified out of which three have been arrested for spreading rumours that spread quickly through the north-eastern communities of cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore.
Starting Wednesday, the SMS-es threatening students and professionals from the North-East convinced thousands to board special trains from Bangalore and Pune, both cosmopolitan cities, to Guwahati.
The Centre, on Friday, banned bulk SMs-es and MMS-es, so the same text message or video cannot be sent by phone to more than five recipients.