Fear looms large in state amid rumours of child lifting, frequent mob attacks
The recent spate of mob attacks in Uttar Pradesh has caught the state police on the back foot. Incidents of hapless people, including women, being brutally beaten up on suspicion of being child lifters are surfacing with alarming frequency despite the police issuing stern warnings and making quick arrests.
UP director general of police (DGP) OP Singh said on Wednesday that 90 people had been arrested for mob violence on suspicion of child thefts across the state in the last few days. “A total of 46 incidents were reported in which one person was killed and 29 injured. The first case was registered in early August and 32 FIRs have been filed so far in these matters,” said Singh.
Most of these incidents were reported from Bareilly, Meerut and Agra zones, he said.
He has now directed police chiefs of all the districts to ensure that charge-sheets in every such incident get filed within 15 days.
The DGP said he would also appeal to people on the social media to not pay heed to such rumours. “Appeals are also being made through public announcement systems in affected areas. Charges under the National Security Act (NSA) will be slapped against the accused if such cases are reported in future,” he said.
In a case reported from a village in Khajni area of Gorakhpur on Wednesday, a mentally challenged person was mistaken as child lifter and beaten up by a mob until some locals intervened. He was admitted to a hospital by a team of Dial 100 that rushed to the spot.
In another incident in Ghaziabad, a middle-aged woman was allegedly thrashed by a mob on suspicion of being a child lifter. In a video that went viral, she was seen crying and requesting the attackers to leave her. “The video that is going viral claims that the woman is a child lifter, which is not true. In fact, she is the grandmother of the child. She went with her grandson for shopping when people attacked her. Strict action will be taken against those who circulated the video,” said SP Niraj Kumar Jadaun on Tuesday.
The worst hit is the western part of the state, with a majority of mob attacks reported over the last three days having occurred in the districts there. Unknown people have been attacked simply for being seen with a child -- with no questions asked.
In one such incident in Asalatpur Jarai village of Sambhal district, two siblings -- Ramautar and Raju -- were thrashed mercilessly on Tuesday when they were taking their nephew Ravi to a hospital for treatment. Villagers mistook the duo for child lifters and badly thrashed them. Police said Ramautar succumbed to his injuries while Raju was still battling for his life in the hospital.
Senior superintendent of police, Sambhal, Yamuna Prasad said that ten people had been arrested in the case. “We also issued an appeal to people to stay away from rumour-mongering, warning them of stern action,” he said.
Similar rumours have also gripped rural areas in districts Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Shamli, Ghaziabad and Hapur -- all in the western part of the state.
On their toes, police officials in Meerut, Baghpat and Hapur districts are warning people against the dangers of falling prey to rumours and are organising interactive sessions to counter the spread of fake news.
SP (rural) Meerut, Avinash Pandey, on Tuesday released a video message in which he appealed to people to help cops in curbing the sharing of fake messages. He also advised people to confirm their facts before assuming that a person was a child lifter.
Incidents also took place in Baraut, Khekra, Ramala and Agarwal Mandi areas of Baghpat and Shamli and Kithore over Sunday and Monday.
Gory images on social media fuelling panic
Police said many such incidents occurred when people were travelling from one village to another. “Usually, in any village, the locals recognise each other. However, family members accompanying children while travelling out of their village can be in danger due to these rumours,” said a cop in Meerut.
He said that panic was also adding fuel to fire. “A person visits a neighbouring village, hears a story about some child lifting gang lurking around, comes back and narrates the story to his neighbours. This process goes on like a chain reaction although nobody has seen any member of this ‘gang’. The whatsapp messages mention no sources. One such message claims that a gang of 15 to 20 people, including women and children, was wandering the streets in search of kids from whom they extracted vital organs after kidnapping them. It is accompanied by gory pictures. A video message also shows car-borne criminals kidnapping a child. These images and videos have nothing to do with the state,” he said.
Investigators are also struggling to ascertain the source of these rumours. They are trying to find out if there is any link between any of the recent lynching incidents.
Bhisam Tyagi, pradhan of Bihuni village of Garhmukteshwar said that parents were scared to let their children out even in daylight and were taking various precautions to not leave the kids unsupervised.
Shaily Sharma, a resident of village Bihuni and mother of two, said, “I am worried about the safety of my school going children. We don’t let them out alone. Earlier, they went out by themselves to board the school bus but now their father drops them to the bus stop. Similarly, there’s someone to bring them back from the bus dropping point.”
Health department team attacked in Fatehpur
Villagers attacked a health department team in Fatehpur on Wednesday, detaining members for hours on suspicion of being child lifters. Three policemen, including a sub-inspector, were injured when they tried to rescue the team from the hostile crowd.
SP Fatehpur Ramesh said, “Police are registering an FIR and effective action will be taken.”
The team was visiting Khaselan village to vaccinate children. It comprised four members -- Jitendra Kumar, Alka Devi, Sheela Devi and Sonam -- who along with the ambulance driver were waiting for the doctor to arrive when they were attacked.
“Around 6-7 people suddenly showed up and began asking us if we were members of a gang of child lifters. We introduced ourselves and told them the reason behind our visit,” Jitendra told the police.
“Suddenly the numbers began swelling and someone claimed that we had put a child inside a box. This infuriated the crowd,” he said.
The villagers first assaulted the male members, detaining them in a house, while the crowd outside tried to set the ambulance on fire.
A police response team rushed there to save the team. Sub-inspector Sunil Yadav and constables Sarnaam Singh and Rajeev Tiwari suffered head injuries after the mob pelted stones on the police party. Cops had to resort to cane charge to disperse the mob and rescue the team.
This is the third incident in three days in the region when people were assaulted on suspicion of being child lifters. On Tuesday night, two persons were brutally beaten up in Bidhnoo police area and a mob attack also took place in Kanpur Dehat.
IG range Mohit Agarwal said that so far nine people had been arrested in cases in Kanpur and Kanpur Dehat.
Dr Yasoda Bindal, sociologist and former associate professor at the KL Girls’ Degree College, Meerut, said that in such cases, people exhibited the trait of following others without applying their mind. “They thrashed people without giving them a chance to explain,” she said adding that a “visible change had been observed in the behaviour of youngsters over the past few years”. “They are more aggressive and impatient now,” she said.