Three sadhus from Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat escaped a murderous mob in Assam’s Dima Hasao district when they were mistaken as child-lifters, officials said on Friday, the latest incident amid a wave of similar attacks fueled by rumours spread through WhatsApp and social media. The attacks have left more than 20 people dead across India in recent months.
A team of police and Assam Rifles personnel rescued the three Hindu devotees from the mob in Mahur, a small town about 300 km from state capital Guwahati, on Thursday.
The incident happened weeks after two men – Nilotpal Das, 29, and Abhijit Nath, 30, -- were lynched by a mob in Assam’s Karbi Anglong, also on the suspicion of being ‘xopadhora’, the Assamese word for child-abductors.
The saffron-clad sadhus were on their way to the Tripura Sundari temple in Agartala when they had stopped at Mahur after their four-wheeler developed a snag, Dima Haso superintendent of police Prasanta Saikia told Outlook over phone. All of them are in their early thirties.
The sadhus had attended the recently-concluded annual Ambubachi Mela at the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati and then visited Parashuram Kund in Arunachal Pradesh before planning the trip to Tripura.
“Since the road from Dima Hasao to Silchar (and Agartala) has been closed due to inclement weather, the sadhus were on their return journey to Guwahati when they stopped at the Mahur railway station for refreshment,” Saikia added.
He added that people of the area, already panicky over viral WhatsApp messages of child-lifters, raised an alarm on seeing the sadhus. A mob of nearly 500 people gathered but were stopped by army personnel whose camp is adjacent to the railway station.
“The army took the men into the camp for their safety. Now the sadhus are on their way back (to Guwahati),” Saikia added.
A video clip circulated on social media shows the three sadhus, their hands tied behind their backs, being rescued by a few soldiers at what appeared to be a railway station. Outlook could not independently verify the authenticity of the clip.
An Indian Express report on Friday said at least 27 people have been lynched across India in one year in 15 incidents of lynchings, most of them sparked by rumours of child-lifters. The government has also asked WhatsApp, the most commonly used messaging service in India, to prevent the spread of rumours.