14 lynchings in 10 states sparked by rumours of child snatchers on social media

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Jun 30, 2018 11:17 AM IST

The latest instance of a lynching triggered by rumours about kidnappers was in Tripura on Thursday. The victim was an activist hired by the state government to create awareness about misleading social media messages.

Several fake social media videos and messages containing similar themes of outsiders stealing children have claimed 14 lives across the country since May 20 despite police warning people not to believe in such rumours.

A mob in West Bengal’s Malda attacking a man on June 22. Police rescued him and admitted him to hospital.(HT Photo)
A mob in West Bengal’s Malda attacking a man on June 22. Police rescued him and admitted him to hospital.(HT Photo)

Scores of incidents of locals thrashing “suspicious-looking” innocents have been reported from different states in the past month or so. Lynchings have been reported from West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha in the past two months.

The latest victim of this frenzy gripping the country was, ironically, an activist hired by the Tripura government to create awareness among people about viral social media messages targeting outsiders. Most such social media posts target outsiders, branding them as kidnappers, often referred to as child-lifters.

Sukanta Chakraborty was hired by the Tripura government after a couple of incidents in which outsiders were attacked in remote areas of the state. His death on Thursday afternoon shows how difficult it is for authorities to convince locals not to believe in these baseless child-lifter rumours.

Tripura director general of police Akhil Kumar Shukla blamed social media for the fear-mongering among villagers in remote areas, which is difficult for them to check.

“We have asked people not to believe in such rumours and are running an awareness campaign,” he said.

Gujarat police have said that the video being circulated on WhatsApp and other social media was shot by a Pakistan-based NGO Roshni Helpline to create awareness against child-lifting. Police believe that the doctored Pakistani videos seemed to have been circulated in many parts of the country including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka also.

Director general of police M Mahender Reddy of Telangana had appealed to people to not believe in such fake news and warned them against taking the law into their own hands.

“If you find someone suspicious, please inform police. We will find out and initiate action on those who are spreading these messages on social media,” he said.

Most state police departments have issued similar appeals saying that not even a single child kidnapping case has been reported from the places where the dozen-odd lynchings have taken place.

State police departments have also asked their cyber cells to monitor social media messages and asked internet service providers to get them deleted. “The problem is once the message gets viral it is difficult to check it. If people stop believing in such messages, the problem can be handled,” said Odisha DGP RP Sharma.

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