BBC News – The Indian policewoman who stopped WhatsApp mob killings

Something unusual happened when dusk fell in early summer in more than 400 villages in the southern Indian state of Telangana.

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 25 September 2018. Men and women raced home from their farms earlier than usual, bolted the front doors, turned out the lights and stayed in. Children, used to playing outdoors until late, were the first ones to be herded home. The streets emptied, and an eerie calm swiftly descended upon the area.

This was far from normal behaviour: during the dry, searing summers, many villagers slept outside on rope-beds in breezy, open courtyards.

In March, village policemen, the state has more than 4,000 such policemen for grassroots policing and intelligence collection, first reported this unusual behaviour to their superior.

Back in the district town of Gadwal, the local chief of police, Rema Rajeshwari, listened to her puzzled constables.

On the frontline of India’s WhatsApp fake news war

“They said life in the villages had come to a virtual halt after sundown. They said they had never seen anything like this before,” Ms Rajeshwari told me.

For the next few days, policemen tried to find out what was happening.

What they discovered was startling. Most villagers had received a video and an audio recording on WhatsApp that had kept them on tenterhooks.

There was a grisly, and evidently doctored, video of a man being disembowelled. And there was an audio recording in the local Telugu language where a male voice said a gang of tribespeople, who were involved in highway robberies and burglaries decades ago, had returned, this time, to “steal” human organs.

When police began checking the villagers’ phones, they found between 30 and 35 videos and photos that had gone viral in the area. One video which was being widely shared was supposedly of a child being kidnapped.

In reality, it was a cleverly edited version of a child safety film from Pakistan, designed to create awareness. It was also followed by an audio message.

“The child kidnappers are coming to our villages,” the message said. “They will throw stones at your door. Don’t step out and let your children out. Please circulate this and make it viral.”

The villages of Jogulamba Gadwal and Wanaparthy districts are part of a region that was once counted among the 20 most disadvantaged districts of India. Rice and cotton farms dot a largely arid landscape. Most people are landless, and migrate to cities in search of work.

Barely half of the people can read or write. But every home has at least one smartphone, usually a second-hand Chinese one, costing as little as 2,000 rupees ($27; £21). Cheap data means that people with little access to education have the fullest access to technology.

The India WhatsApp video driving people to murder

Media literacy is low. Villagers are glued to material circulating on WhatsApp for news, viral videos and social conversations. Every village has more than two dozen WhatsApp groups, carved along community, caste, kinship and social interest lines.

They are among 200 million Indians who send more than 13 billion messages every day, making India the biggest market for WhatsApp.

It was March, and the videos were going viral in the two districts. Ms Rajeshwari decided to revitalise the village policing to combat fake news. A constable assigned to each village began going door-to-door showing people the fake videos and messages.

They asked people not to believe in rumours, and warned them that sharing fake news was a punishable offence. Night patrolling was intensified. The phone numbers of the village constable and the police chief were distributed to villagers, and inscribed on walls.

For more than a month-and-a half, Ms Rajeshwari slept fitfully as rumours of child kidnappers and organ thieves spread like wildfire through WhatsApp and an Indian messaging service called ShareChat.

More than 54,000 children were abducted across India in 2016-17, but when police checked the records, they found no recent history of kidnappings in these parts.

But the phones kept ringing. One night, a villager called, hysterically reporting that some people were throwing stones at his door, and that the child snatchers had arrived. The local constable reported back that there was no such incident and all was quiet.

Ms Rajeshwari decided to find out on her own. “What I found was some drunk villager was hallucinating about child snatchers after watching the video and calling the police up.”

Who can stop India WhatsApp lynchings?

In April, in a remote village, residents retired for the night after a religious function. Two women singers who had performed at the function had missed the last bus home and decided to spend the night in a local temple.
Around midnight, a drunk man spotted them. He woke up his village, saying he had spotted “child kidnappers” sleeping in the temple.

A mob descended on the shrine in no time and dragged out the women. They were tied to a tree and beaten up. An alert villager phoned the village constable. Four policemen rushed to the area and rescued the women in the nick of time.

A few weeks later, in another village, a man was hiding in the fields waiting for his lover when some locals spotted him. Word got round that a kidnapper was hiding in the fields. A mob gathered, surrounded the man and thrashed him. Again, a panicky villager rang to alert the police, who took the man to safety.

Around the same time, in another village, a shepherd had a quarrel with two teenage friends. The friends circulated his picture on WhatsApp with a message that he was a “child snatcher”.

The same day, while grazing his animals, he was chased down and attacked by people in a neighbouring village who had seen his picture on their phones. When the police picked up the teenagers, they said they had sent out the picture to settle scores. “We thought let’s make this viral,” they said,” and teach him a lesson.”

Thirteen such incidents were reported over April and May. Things turned so bad that panic-stricken villagers formed vigilante squads and patrolled the villages with sticks and stones.

How WhatsApp helped turn an Indian village into a lynch mob

Ms Rajeshwari says the village policemen worked continuously with elders and village council leaders to raise awareness about fake news. The constables added themselves to village Whatsapp groups to keep a watch on the material being shared.

The village drummer, a modern-day town crier who performs at weddings, funerals and makes public pronouncements, was mobilised to go around and talk about rumours. Policemen formed cultural groups and travelled to villages, singing songs and performing skits that they had composed about the dangers of fake news.

Beginning a month later, in April, mobs went on to lynch at least 25 people across India after reading the same false rumours spread on WhatsApp. India’s government asked WhatsApp to act urgently to halt the spread of “irresponsible and explosive messages”.

Far away, in more than 400 villages of Telangana, where the same rumours had sparked tensions earlier in the summer, no lives were lost.

Facts were getting heard, and rumours were being buried.

The Tribune – Pakistan court summons all witnesses in Sarabjit’s murder case

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 26 September 2018. A court in Pakistan on Wednesday summoned all the witnesses next month in the murder case of Indian national Sarabjit Singh, who was killed by his fellow prisoners in 2013.

Two Pakistani death row prisoners, Amir Sarfraz alias Tamba and Mudassar, in May 2013 attacked Sarabjit, 49, in the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore and killed him.

Lahore’s additional district and sessions judge Muhammad Moin Khokhar, during the hearing of the case, expressed anger as none of the prosecuting witnesses appeared before the court to record their statement.

“Issuing notices to all the witnesses in the case for next hearing on October 5, the judge directed the prosecutor to ensure their presence (in the court),” a court official told PTI after the hearing.

He said that so far, two witnesses of the Kot Lakhpat Jail had recorded their statements.

“One of the witnesses in the previous hearing had told the court that Sarabjit Singh was brought to the Services Hospital in a critical condition. I wanted to record Singh’s statement but the doctors stopped him, terming his condition very serious,” the official said.

In the previous hearings, the judge had also admonished the jail authorities for not cooperating with the court.

A one-man judicial commission of Justice Mazhar Ali Akbar Naqvi of the Lahore High Court had initially investigated Sarabjit’s murder case before the trial kicked off in the sessions court.

Naqvi recorded the statements of some 40 witnesses in the case and submitted its report to the government which is yet to make its findings public.

The one-man commission had also issued notices to Sarabjit’s relatives through the foreign ministry to record their statements and produce any evidence they had regarding his death. However, Sarabjit’s family did not record their statements, the officials had said.

Tamba and Mudassar, in their statements to the commission, had confessed to the crime and said they killed Sarabjit as they wanted to avenge the killing of people in Lahore and Faisalabad in bomb blasts allegedly carried out by the Indian national.

Both the alleged killers of Sarabjit were not present in the sessions court on Wednesday because of security reasons, according to their counsel Advocate Usman Waheed.

Sarabjit had been sentenced to death for alleged involvement in a string of bombings in 1990 in the country’s eastern Punjab province.

His family, however, said: “He was the victim of mistaken identity and had inadvertently strayed across the border.”

Ledeberg – Bevrijdingslaan – Gentbrugge

21 Augustus 2018

Attenti al Gatto
Mind the cat

21 Augustus 2018

Carrefour Market became Tekbir Market

Gentbrugge Van Lokerenstraat
21 Augustus 2018

Mevlana shop and Happy Hands car wash

22 Augustus 2018

Good progress on the Nederschelde project

Gentbrugge Braemstraat
22 Augustus 2018



To see all my pictures:

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Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Southern Daily Echo – Langar Week is coming to Southampton between October 1 and 7

An international Sikh awareness week is coming to Southampton next week. Langar Week, which runs between October 1 and 7, will provide free meals for all across the city.

Aaron Shaw

Southampton – Hampshire – UK, 27 August 2018. The week is an annual campaign highlighting the free-food service concept of Langar through a variety of events. Southampton Sikh Seva charity group said they were hoping to teach more people about the practice.

Langar translates as ‘communal kitchen’ and is the practice of providing free food for all, regardless of faith, gender, age or status. It was started more than 500 years ago by the first guru of the Sikhs, Guru Navek Dev Ji.

Southampton Sikh Seva said: “We look forward to serving the local community and teaching them about this practice. Anyone is welcome to a Gurdwara. Where there are Sikhs, no-one should go hungry.”

Above Bar Church will be open to all between 6pm and 7.30pm on October 1, and at various other locations throughout the week, including Bargate, London Road and Shirley High Street.

Dawn – PPP calls for immediate meeting of the South Punjab task force

The PPP on Thursday asked the government to immediately call an official meeting of a task force created to expedite the formation of a province in south Punjab.

Arif Malik

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 27 September 2018. Talking to DawnNews outside the Punjab Assembly, PPP lawmaker Ali Haider Gilani said that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had received votes in the elections on the promise of a new South Punjab province.

Gilani recalled that the ruling party had promised to kick-start the process for the creation of a separate South Punjab province in 100 days; however, with 39 days of their administration already having passed, the PTI had not yet called the first meeting of the task force.

Gilani also added that the PPP had reservations about the inclusion of Makhdoom Khusro Pervez and Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi in the task force.

PTI lawmaker Mohammad Mohsin Leghari had on August 15 submitted a resolution seeking the federal government’s initiation of the process for the creation of a Southern Punjab province.

The PTI had added the creation of a south Punjab province in its manifesto in May this year.

Separately, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had also raised the issue in April.

“We will make a separate province (out of south Punjab) and end the deprivation of this belt if you people support us,” he had told a political gathering in Multan.

PPP lawmaker Makhdoom Usman, referring to Bilawal’s remarks, called on the government to urgently hold a meeting of the task force.

He said that other political parties should be shown the road map that PTI has come up with for the creation of the south Punjab province in the divisions of Bahwalpur, Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan.

According to Article 239 of the Constitution, the process of creating new provinces requires a two-thirds majority in separate votes in the two houses of parliament and then a further two-thirds majority in the provincial assembly of the affected province.

Given the current party position of arch-rival parties in the parliament, as well as in the Punjab Assembly, the creation of the province has become a complex issue.

The PML-N and the PPP, both a part of the opposition in Punjab and the Centre, will not easily let the PTI have the credit of a new province despite the fact that both of the parties had already endorsed the cause of a new province in south Punjab.