A mob in Maharashtra's Dhule district lynched five men on Sunday suspecting them to be child-lifters, following rumours circulated on social media that a gang trafficking children were on the prowl.
According to reports, the mob armed with stones and sticks surrounded the five men in Rainpada, a tribal village about 400km northeast of Mumbai, around 11am and assaulted them.
The men, who were said to be from the state's Solapur district, were locked in a room after the initial assault and thrashed again. They died of their wounds later.
Police said on Monday that 15 people were arrested for the fatal attack.
The Dhule attack follows another mob assault on two men — both migrant contractual labourers — on Monday in Chennai over rumours that they were trying to kidnap a child. The case emerged after a video of the attack surfaced on social media. A man was arrested and police are searching for another suspect seen in the video.
This was the latest in a spurt in mob violence following rumours on social media in the past several months, leading to assaults and murders. One of the first cases was reported from Obanapalle village in Andhra Pradesh on April 28 when locals thrashed a mentally unsound man to death.
This was followed by the brutal lynching of two friends – Nilotpal Das, 29, and Abhijeet Nath, 30, in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district after they were mistaken as child-lifters by a mob of more than 200 people in June.
A woman was lynched in Vadaj on June 27 after a mob labelled her a child-lifter and overturned the autorickshaw she and two other women were travelling in.
In another case, Sukanta Chakraborty, 36, who was appealing to the public on behalf of the administration to refrain from rumour-mongering on social media, fell victim on Thursday of mass hysteria over child-lifting that has claimed two lives and left as many as six people injured in three separate cases in the past 48 hours, forcing the Tripura government to suspend all mobile Internet services for two days.
"Sukanta Chakraborty was attacked when he was appealing to the public on behalf of the administration not to heed to rumours. Senior officials have rushed to these areas and additional security has been deployed to control the situation," an official told reporters.
A few hours before Chakraborty's death, a mob of nearly 1,000 people attacked four traders from northern Uttar Pradesh, killing one and leaving the others critically wounded.
The four took refuge inside a paramilitary camp after hundreds of people believing them to be child kidnappers chased their vehicle after they stopped for a tea break on a road.
On the same day, a mob set upon an unidentified woman after she was spotted by residents walking around their village, Das said.
The woman in her 40s was beaten with batons and dragged across the village as tribal residents chanted "death to child lifters", police said.
In view of rumour-mongering, Uttar Pradesh director general of police Akhil Kumar Shukla issued a notification on Thursday, suspending all SMS and Internet services for the next 48 hours.
"It has been noticed that SMS, WhatsApp and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are being widely used for transmission of fake images, videos and text messages which have the potential to incite violence in the state," the notification stated.
On April 28, another mentally unstable man was hacked to death by a mob in Vellore district in Tamil Nadu after several WhatsApp posts claimed that around 200 miscreants from “north India” had either entered or were entering the state to abduct children.
Two more similar mob attacks were reported from the state within two weeks.
The recent cases have a pan-India reach and impact. Child-lifting rumours have claimed lives from Assam to Tamil Nadu because of rumours floating on social media platforms such as WhatsApp. In June this year alone, 14 people have been killed in lynchings, two each in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana and one each in Gujarat and Karnataka.
(With Agency Inputs)