From the Sepoy Uprising of 1857 to WhatsApp Rumours: Take a Cue!
Today, Mangal Pandey would have turned 191.
What exactly do we remember about him?
In 1857, India witnessed an uprising that shook the dust off its feet. The Sepoy Uprising yanked an already volatile country further out of its grave, with a deafening roar, and set in motion a train of events that would later be deemed as ones that led to India’s Independence from the British Empire.
A rumour circulated among the sepoys, who were in the service of the British East India Company, that the cartridges that they were required to use for the new Enfield Rifles were greased with pig and cow fat.
The sepoys would have to bite off the ends of the cartridges to use the rifles. Bam! Once these communal hot buttons were pressed, the socio-political landscape metamorphosed into a ticking bomb.
Mangal Pandey shall go down in the annals of history as the man who played a key role in the events leading up to the Uprising of 1857. He shall be remembered as the freedom fighter who led Indian sepoys to revolt against the rumoured circulation of the cartridges greased with animal fat.
Tensions that were only benign up until then, turned malignant the second eager noses sniffed out the very first whiff of something that could possibly be true.
A mere rumour, that still hasn’t been conclusively confirmed, was enough to marshal enough minds to set the ball rolling!
Pandey was sentenced to death, along with Jemadar Ishwari Prasad, after three Sikh members of the quarter-guard testified that the latter, the Indian officer-in-command of the quarter-guard, had ordered them not to arrest Pandey.
Every history lesson has a meaning attributed to it, right?
This one immortalised Pandey for us.
Does the message run deeper though?
The power of mass mobilizations, to be exercised at one’s own discretion.
Truth Is as Truth Packages Itself?
In the Mahabharata, a rattled Dronacharya asks Yudhishthira if Ashwathama, his son, is indeed dead during the Battle of Kurukshetra. Yudhishthira, goaded by his compatriots, replies, “Ashwathama hata, iti gaja” (roughly translated as, “Ashwathama was killed. PS: It was an elephant”).
The part about the elephant, Ashwathama, being killed, is inaudibly whispered, leading Dronacharya to believe that his son is dead. This is when he comes undone, anguished and miserable, and is consequently vanquished in the battle.
1874: The New York Herald published a front-page article that said that animals had escaped from the Central Park Zoo, causing wide-spread panic throughout New York City.
The Editors claimed that the story was carried in order to highlight unsafe conditions at the zoo, but only a small fineprint at the bottom carried a disclaimer, stating that the entire account was a fabrication.
Schools were cancelled, the NYPD mobilised, and men were out on the streets with guns, trying to hunt the animals down.
2018: “According to NASA, the biggest earthquake will hit Delhi soon. The Rector’s Scale is 9.1 or may be 9.2. Date has not cleared yet, but it may occur in between 7th of April to 15th April. Loss of life has declared in Lakhs.”
This carelessly worded WhatsApp message, with a threatening air of caution preying on each syllable, was forwarded to my jumpy mother on a dreary Monday morning. This reached her before a sugary ‘Good Morning’ forward could. And the repercussions were far from humorous.
Six phone calls, from across the country, and ten text messages later, she was finally placated. Her daughter was safe. Her daughter would be safe. It was fake news. I am sure my mother wasn’t the only one who fell for it.
Three haphazard mediums.
Three haphazard contexts.
Three haphazard instances of falsehoods triggering treacherous consequences.
What happens when such instances become a regular occurrence?
Our WhatsApp Forwards Aren’t a New Problem!
History will have you believe that trigger points are the easiest bait. Once you figure out a trigger point, all you have to do is package it a certain way. Make it resemble something closest to the ‘truth’? And truth is as truth packages itself.
It is NOT doing so now.
There are people getting killed.
There are people getting lynched.
There are people losing everything overnight.
The snake-like coil that has torn into our eco-system with different versions of the ‘truth’ needs to be re-examined before we lose more.
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