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Rumour as ‘fog of war’

 Aheli Moitra

A few days ago, the Central Reserve Police Force sacked one of its jawans. Soon after, the Assam Police arrested him on the charge of “obscene acts in public, criminal intimidation” under the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act.


The jawan had made a self video blaming the Prime Minister and Home Minister of the Indian Union for the sordid condition of jawans in the security forces, and uploaded it online. The police was swift to act.


Recently, a piece of fake news doing the rounds on Rohingya refugees likely to attack Nagaland was attributed to State “intelligence sources.” The sources even “confirmed” that leaders of a minority religious community were inflaming hatred and imagined attacks. The agency that carried this as ‘news’ spiced the story with skilful “information” from a senior retired Border Security Force officer.


While this gossip was spread through social media for days, the police took no action. Even when the community against whom the propaganda was directed appealed for action, the police took no action.


‘Why not?’ is an obvious question, even as another question looks us in the face: why was the State ‘intelligence’ named the source of this information? State ‘intelligence’ is a vast all-encompassing term for the spy machinery run by the State—the army, paramilitary units, police, central government etc. all have their own intelligence wings collecting separate bits of information and, when convenient, leaking bits. Any number of buildings in Dimapur has secret machines that blink and blank through the night; in the day, spies take permission-less photos of citizens that land up in clandestine files in bureaus. All too often, in conflict areas, gossip and rumour also becomes ‘information.’


Rumours create confusion, and confusion creates division. This is a well known tactic of psychological warfare—creating Carl von Clausewitz’s “fog of war”—that has been tried and tested to a successful degree in Kashmir and the North East; several human rights defenders have become “insurgents” in this rumour mongering, leading to the exile of some, the torture and death of others.


Given the tension around “illegal immigration” in the region today, such rumours that fuel hate towards the ‘outsider’ create the golden opportunity to serve the majoritarian agenda to trample upon peripheries. Have the Nagas not been victims of such lies and propaganda that robs people of humanity?


Anthropologist Stuart Kirsch writes that “even though they constitute a reaction to terror,” rumours may also “generate or amplify it (terror) in their wake.”


“These rumours both reflect and reproduce the political violence that defines the margins” of the State and become an “important vehicle” through which conflicting peoples apprehend one another.


By not taking action against such anti-one community rumour, the State seems to be allowing a sensitive situation to get worse. As in the arrest of the aforementioned jawan, it is amply clear that the State is not inept. Is this, then, a classic case of rumour as ‘fog of war’?

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