India: Vigilante Mob Kills 5, Injures 20 over ‘Fake’ Child Trafficking ‘News’

Schoolchildren dressed as Hindu gods Lord Krishna and Radha reenact the Mahabharata mythology in Amritsar, northern India on August 13, 2009, the eve of the 'Janmashtami' festival
AFP/Narinder NANU

A mob of an estimated 200 villagers in India “mercilessly” killed at least five people, including a transgender woman, and injured 20 others, instigated by false online “rumors” accusing the victims of child trafficking and actively trying to kidnap youngsters, various media outlets reported this week.

Authorities have warned people to ignore the online rumors, dismissed as “fake news,” or face criminal charges.

The Daily Mail notes:

Vigilantes have killed at least five people and beaten 20 others after believing ‘fake news’ spread by social media warning that gangs of child kidnappers were searching for youngsters.

Police in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, India, are on ‘high alert’ after mobs of terrified villagers ‘mercilessly’ assaulted people they suspected of being child traffickers, including one man who was visiting a relative. Calling for calm, officers said there was no indication that such gangs actually exist.

“Wild rumors on social media about interstate gangs of child lifters and kidnappers has created such a panic in the two Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. This has caused furious mobs to attack people who appeared slightly suspicious to them,” the Global Village Space news outlet adds.

In the Telnagana capital of Hyderabad alone, a mob of locals killed a transgender woman and severely wounded three others over rumors disseminated online claiming that the victims are child traffickers, CNN reports.

“V. Satyanarayana, a deputy commissioner of police (South Zone) in Hyderabad, told CNN Monday that the women were begging in the southern suburb of Chandrayanagutta on Saturday night when they were set upon,” the network points out.

“They were begging for money from some shopkeepers in Chandrayanagutta at 11 p.m. when some unruly youths started saying they had come to kidnap children,” Satyanarayana told CNN.

Satyanarayana believes that 20 people participated in the attack while a crowd of up to 200 individuals “stood by egging them on,” the news outlet reveals.

“The lynchings have been blamed on fake WhatsApp messages being circulated in Telangana, cautioning people about a child trafficking gang being on [the] prowl in the two Telugu-speaking states [including Andhra Pradesh],” the Hindu reports.

Law enforcement has reportedly arrested some people accused of spreading the “fake news” on social media.

“Those who indulge in violence on the basis of such rumors will face stringent action,” M. Malakondaia, the chief of police in Andhra Pradesh reportedly declared, adding, “An ‘attempt of murder’ case will be booked against those who attacked the woman last night.”

Mahender Reddy, the chief of police in Telangana, added: “The police is alert and we will take action against those spreading such rumors In both the incidents at Bhimgal in Nizamabad and in Bibinagar in Yadadri districts, innocent people were killed.”

The police chief vowed that those responsible for disseminating the rumors would face criminal charges.

A wave of mob attacks instigated by social media has been gripping Indian in recent months.

The Global Village Space notes:

Mob Violence instigated by fake news generated from WhatsApp messages is a major menace in India…Mob violence often also targets minorities [like Muslims] in [Hindu-majority] India.

Many assert that mob violence has become an integral part of Indias’ social life due to the anarchic situation often fomented by Indian political groups, especially Hindutva [Hindu extremist] groups. With the use of mob violence, these parties often create an atmosphere of polarization of society in order to gain public support and votes.

Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration reportedly proposed a legal measure that would inflict the death penalty on criminals convicted of raping children under the age of 12.

According to the Asian News Service (IANS), sexual crimes against minors in India have soared — increasing five-fold from 18,967 in 2006 to 106,958 in 2016.

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