Rumours of child trafficking spread from Jharkhand to Bengal, inciting violence
An atmosphere of feverish suspicion has descended on multiple districts in West Bengal.india Updated: Jun 16, 2017 07:49 IST
Passers-by, migrant labourers, a beggar, and a mentally-ill woman have been among the objects of a panic about child trafficking that is gripping multiple districts in West Bengal.
Police say the swirling rumours are baseless.
They may have originated in WhatsApp messages in Jharkhand, where nine men were lynched in four separate incidents last month on suspicion of child trafficking and abuse. When the police reached one village in the area, a mob vandalised their car.
In Bengal, the rumours started after a teenager in Silda, a village in the district of Jhargram, was abducted on May 12. Her rescue from traffickers by police on the 15th did not quell lingering suspicions.
Three days later, three people were beaten up in the village of Belpahari in Jhargram. Residents of a nearby village suspicious of an electrician broke his right arm the next day.
On May 22, two persons were beaten near another Jhargram village. On the 23rd, residents of Goaltore in West Midnapore assaulted four persons who had gone there to carry out a survey for electrical work. Sumitra Singh Mahapatra, the pradhan of the local gram panchayat, had to rush to rescue them.
A week later, a man was badly thrashed in the village of Jamshole. The same day, residents of another Bengal village grew suspicious that a mentally ill woman was involved in trafficking and locked her up in a local club. She was later rescued by police.
On May 31, villagers of Balarampur in Purulia district thrashed Sanjib Sahu and Chandrakumar Babu, who had gone there to work on a mobile tower. Sujit Mandal, the driver of their vehicle, was not spared.
“When we entered in the village, the locals encircled us wanted to know who we were,” said Mandal. “Despite telling them our identity, the locals said that we had come to steal children and began to beat us.”
The most recent attack was on Wednesday, when Ratan Soren travelled to a West Midnapore village to see a relative and got beaten up by residents who suspected him of trafficking.
Fear has set in. “We are afraid to go and seek alms,” said Chabi Sen of West Midnapore district. “I was recently beaten up in Kalaimuri near under Salboni, where I went to beg.”
“Rumours are swirling for the past one month,” said Chandan Mahato, a resident of Belpahari. “Everyone is saying that child lifters had come to a nearby village. Police should take steps against those spreading such fear.”
There have been two police complaints but, so far, no arrests. A police officer in Balarampur said that the local police force was aware of the attack on mobile tower workers and had broadcast informative messages via loudspeaker and distributed leaflets.
“We are extremely cautious that a Jharkhand-like situation does not take place here,” said Sukhendu Hira, superintendent of the Bankura police. “We are also constantly on the lookout for any social media messages that may stoke the panic and trigger trouble.”
Y Raghubanshi, the additional superintendent of police in the district of West Midnapore, said his force was addressing rumours directly. “We are telling the locals that if they suspect anyone of being a child lifter, they should inform the local police and not sit in judgment themselves.”