Five lynched in India over WhatsApp rumours
Arrests made after allegations of child kidnapping exploded into mob violence
More than 20 people have been arrested after five men were lynched by a mob in a rural Indian village over false accusations spread via WhatsApp.
The victims were members of a nomadic community who arrived in Rainpada, in the western Maharashtra state, seeking alms.
When one of the men attempted to speak to a child in the marketplace, rumours spread that the strangers were child kidnappers - a common fear in parts of rural India, where child trafficking is widespread. Warnings about “child-lifting” gangs have recently been circulating on WhatsApp in the area, says Scroll.
A mob assembled and dragged the five men to the village council building. There, the violence intensified, as the victims were kicked, punched and beaten with sticks.
The attack was filmed, The Hindustan Times reports. “In one of the clips, a victim was seen pleading for help, while the bloodied bodies of the other four were lying on the floor.”
Two police officers who attempted to restrain the mob were injured in the violence.
“The unfortunate incident appears to be a case of false rumours going viral on social media,” said Dada Bhuse, minister for rural development in Maharashtra’s state government. He vowed “stern action” against the vigilantes.
Over the weekend, police “arrested 23 people and launched a manhunt for nine others who have been identified as part of the lynch mob”, the Times of India reports, adding that most of Rainpada’s 750 residents have fled their home for fear of arrest.
At least ten people accused of being child abductors or traffickers have been murdered by angry mobs in India over the past three months, according to The New Indian Express.
Officials say the false rumours are fuelled by messaging apps and social media, where they are able to spread rapidly regardless of their accuracy.
However, blaming WhatsApp and Facebook for the lynchings would be to “shoot the messenger”, says The Indian Express.
The real problem exposed by the recent spate of mob violence is the failure of the state to effectively deter vigilante action.
“Over time, the lynch mob has acquired the mystique of impunity, and it will take determined action by the administration and the political leadership to regain control of the situation,” the newspaper said in an editorial.