Three months after a 14-year-old posted an apology for a social media post he never posted, life has come to a standstill for his family.
On August 15, Maaz (name changed) saw an Instagram post on Shivaji Maharaj from his account. The police found out that his account was hacked.
Dilshad Sheikh, the mother of the 14-year-old told Decode that while she thought that things would settle down after the police confirmed that her son’s account was hacked, it hasn’t.
Dilashd’s family was evicted out of the house in Satara in Maharashtra. “It was because of the external pressure they faced from the majority community,” she said.
While Maaz was nearly forced to drop out of school for the complaints they received allegedly from other parents, Dilshad, an Asha worker, was not allowed to work. Every time she went to work she was asked to talk to her superiors.
“All of this because of a social media post my son didn’t post,” added Dilshad.
Dishad and her husband are now struggling to make ends meet. Her husband lost his only good-paying job as he was arrested for eight days.
“He was earning enough to run the family for the work he used to get but at the time when he was arrested and kept in the police station for 8 days, he lost his job, and now, we are struggling to even pay our rent, Maaz’s school fee and her younger sister’s uniform and book’s expenses are due too,” cried Dilshad.
The arrest and loan of the lawyer’s fee has piled up so much that it has affected the bonding of the family. Dilshad complained that her husband comes home intoxicated and fights with her daily.
The taunts, stares, bullying, and harassment at the workplace have only increased for Dilshad.
She wasn’t allowed to work and was sent from one officer to another to talk about her job situation every time she reached her office. Dilshad is an ASHA worker, who has spent a decade in community service.
“Even today when I reach the office, I don’t get the same respect I used to. People talk behind my back. They even go to the extent of spreading fake news that it was me who was arrested along with my husband and son,” said Dilshad while talking to BOOM.
Dilshad remembers when she was traveling with her son and two of the traffic police allegedly taunted her while pointing at them, “See he is that kid who posted against Shivaji Maharaj, and his father was kept in jail for 8 days. Such a shameful act.”
“It has become a living hell for us, cannot even try to get back to our normal lives because people don’t let us,” Dilshad said.
The rent of her old house was 4,000 rupees but now her new home costs 8,000 rupees per month. They have to live far away from that locality where people call them traitors and anti-nationals.
“I don’t want such social media which brings so much trauma and police cases against my family. I will never ever use Instagram in my life. Even our relatives have abandoned us because they fear they will get in trouble too,” said the 14-year-old to Decode.
Right after he had posted an apology and said that he hadn’t posted anything against Shivaji Maharaj, the post got deleted.
It was the morning of 15th August when Dilshad’s relative came running towards her and showed the social media posts allegedly posted by her son against Shivaji Maharaj.
“Not just the offensive post but many friends and relatives got abusive messages from Maaz’s account. Reading those vile messages, I was assured that it wasn’t my son,” said the 35-year-old.
By the time Dilshad approached the police around 11 am, the Instagram post had already gone viral in the district, putting Dilshad and her family at high risk.
More than 50-70 people gathered outside Dilshad’s house calling them traitors, Pakistanis, anti-national, and threw stones at her house. Within no time her landlord had asked her to vacate the house giving her no time to think of an alternative.
“It was the Hindutva leaders who pressured the landlord to throw me out of the house because never in my life I have faced any issue living here,” said Dilshad
“The night when my husband returned from his work trip, he was arrested and kept in jail for 8 days, I don’t know why even when the police knew it was a clear-cut case of hacking,” she said.
After it came to light it was a 23-year-old Hindu boy who hacked into Maaz’s account, nothing much changed for Dilshad’s family, in fact, things turned even more ugly.
Satara district and Pusesavali village had been in tension for days and all for a few social media posts.
In early September, two more objectionable social media posts emerged from different Muslim individuals in the same village. Tensions rose, and on September 9, a mob attacked Pusesavali, vandalising and setting fire to Muslim-owned properties, injuring many.
Nurul lost his life, and 11 others were severely injured, including Abdul. Despite the violence, the accused denied any connection to the social media posts, leaving 100 Muslim villagers in fear and mourning.
In June this year, Muslim men including minors were arrested and kept in Juvenile centers. Their fault was either some of them posted videos and pictures of Aurangzeb, an emperor of the Mughal Empire from the 17th century or some of them reshared these photos and videos.
In the afternoon of June 11, the Navi Mumbai police registered a case against Ali Mohd Hussain, a 29-year-old individual employed at a mobile shop. The police took this action in response to a complaint filed by a Hindu organisation, accusing him of setting a profile picture on WhatsApp that featured Aurangzeb, a 17th-century Mughal emperor.
Apart from the above case, in many cases, minors, mostly Muslims were put in Juvenile centers for posting or re-sharing videos or pictures of Aurangzeb.
A powerful force operates on platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook, and these tech giants have failed to adequately address this problem.
“Social media is one of the top Hindu far-right tools to radicalize Hindus and mobilise them to commit acts of violence against minorities, backed by the ecosystem that is at the center of generating hate and bigotry against Muslims,” said Raqib Hameed Naik, a Journalist and founder of Hindutva Watch, a website closely documenting hate speeches across the country.
“There are two aspects to be considered here, one being the abuse of tech and social media platforms and the other being the broader social element which says that divide and bigots exist in society,” said Prateek Waghre, policy director of Internet Freedom Foundation.
While speaking with Decode, Prateek highlighted distinctions for WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
WhatsApp relies mainly on human-driven distribution, particularly for right-wing and Islamophobic content, lacking a significant community guidelines.
YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook incorporate IT cell elements, with their algorithms artificially boosting content engagement based on existing shares and engagement.
The recent Israel-Hamas war has also called for intimidation against Indian Muslims.
A few students from Aligarh Muslim University were booked under sections of IPC after they marched in support of Palestine on 8th October. All four of them belong to the Muslim community.
Decode found out how right-wing group members including Yati Narsinghand called for bulldozers on AMU, and arrest of the students who he called 'terrorists'.
Not just Yati but other handles called them by similar names and asked the police to take strict action against them (here, here, here & here). Some even requested police to charge these students with the NSA.
Ahmed*, one of the students named in the FIR said, “I have been getting a few threats. I have seen all the hatred and abuses against me on social media as well but this isn't new. The hatred isn’t new.”
Ahmed says calls for “Free Palestine", “Hindustan Zindabad”, and “Allah hu Akbar” were raised and how any of these can be termed as provocative is not understandable to him.
Arrests For Pro-Palestine Posts
In the year 2021, a similar pattern unfolded when a citizen journalist from Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh was arrested for putting a Pro-Palestine post on his Facebook page.
It’s been 2 years since Yasser Arafat was arrested and his house was raided by Special Operation Group, an anti-militancy task force for uploading a Pro-Palestine image on his news page, Azamgarh Express but little did he know it would change his life.
Arafat had posted an image of Pro-Palestine which roughly translated to, “Next Friday in Gaza, the Palestinian flag will fly in every home and vehicle.” “I posted it around 11 in the night and around 8 am next morning, I woke up to that image going viral all over the internet with more than 500 comments under the post,” said Arafat.
He was arrested under section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code.
“Palestine chale jaa( Go to Palestine)”, “Ye terrorist hai, soch bhi esi hia hai(He is a terrorist with similar thoughts)”, and “Zihadi Muslim” were some of the comments that were thrown at the journalist.
Another 20-year-old boy was detained from his house on October 14 this year for putting a Pro-Palestine Whatsapp status.
“They kept me in the police station from 10 am in the morning till 7 in the evening for just my opinion on Palestine,” said the boy while talking to Decode
“I cannot tell you how this case has ruined my life. To date, everybody is looking at me like I have committed some crime. And my family’s mental state is beyond anyone's imagination.”
The 20-year-old believes that it was not the suo-motu case that the police is claiming it to be, the police filed an FIR against him on the pressure put by external forces.
“I was threatened that my passport would be confiscated and people like me who take sides of Palestine shouldn’t stay in India and the country doesn’t need us,” added the 39-year-old journalist.
Arafat was given bail after being more than 24 hours in the police station but little did he know getting bail wasn’t the only hurdle he had to cross.
“One social media post had made me a sensation and news bait overnight. I was on all the news channels and was being constantly vilified,” said Arafat.
Words like “Zihadi Maulana”, “Mulla”, “Aatankawadi” were allegedly used by news and YouTube channels for Arafat while running the headlines about him. “Right after my home was raided by SOG and my family members were interrogated for 5-6 hours, I decided that I would leave journalism,” he said.
He couldn’t afford to continue doing what he dearly loved because of the deeply engraved communal and political situation in the country. He has now shifted to Mumbai, shutting down his ‘Azamgarh Express’ page which had millions of followers.
“Lab azaad nahi rahe humare ab(we aren’t free to speak anymore),” Arafat said.
How hate generates from social media
The Culture-Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) stated in its report that India, the world's largest democracy, the propaganda machinery of Hindutva, the political ideology that has influenced the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), relies heavily on the dissemination of hatred through digital platforms.
Brian Feldaman wrote in 2108, “The first problem with “trending” is that it selects and highlights content with no eye toward accuracy, or quality. Automated trending systems are not equipped to make judgments; they can determine if things are being shared, but they cannot determine whether that content should be shared further. Facebook’s trending section is fully automated. A spokesperson for the company said, “To determine what goes into the Trending section, we look at the number of publishers that are posting articles on Facebook about the same topic, and the engagement around that group of articles.”
Waghre stresses that social elements can never be separated from the tech abuse by right-wingers. The unfortunate broader aspect of it is how the general public engages with content that Monu Manesar, Suresh Chavhanke, Yati Narsinganand, and TN Raja Singh bring on Social Media platforms.
A report by CCDH (Centre for Countering Digital Hate) in the year 2022 alleged that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok have not taken action on approximately 90 percent of the anti-Muslim and Islamophobic content present on their platforms.
Research and a report published revealed the existence of 530 posts that had collectively garnered 25 million views. These posts contained dehumanizing content about Muslims in the form of racist caricatures, conspiracy theories, and false claims.
Facebook's community standards explicitly prohibit "a direct attack against people on the basis of... race [or] ethnicity," a rule that also applies to Instagram. Similarly, Twitter's policy states that users are not allowed to "promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity [and] national origin." Despite these guidelines, the reported anti-Muslim and Islamophobic content on these platforms seems to have gone largely unaddressed.
“There's not much that WhatsApp can do because of the end-to-end encryption, however for platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they can certainly do local investment in content moderation and understanding the elements and the impact of their content. Finding ways to endure that hate content doesn't attain such mass reach,” Waghre said.