Indian police urged people on Wednesday not to believe false rumors on WhatsApp after five fresh attacks by crazed mobs left one woman dead and a dozen hurt.
The assaults in the western state of Gujarat, sparked by talk of hundreds of child kidnappers on the loose, are just the latest in a string of similar recent episodes in at least five Indian states. The destitute woman who was killed, named as Shantadevi Nath, was with three others set upon by around 100 people in the Vadaj area of Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s biggest city, on Tuesday evening, police official J.A. Rathwa told AFP.
“First, half a dozen people surrounded the women as they were about to board an autorickshaw and started questioning them. Soon the crowd swelled and pulled Shantadevi and her companions out of the rickshaw and started thrashing them,” he said. “People in the crowd rained punches and kicked the four women. Some even hit them with sticks and pulled them by their hair, which resulted in severe injuries to Shantadevi, while the three others sustained minor injuries.”
The women were finally rescued by local traffic policemen and taken to hospital but Nath, 45, was declared dead on arrival.
The same viral message spread on smartphone messaging service WhatsApp, warning that 300 people had descended on Gujarat looking to abduct and sell children, appeared to have triggered four other mob attacks in the state the same day.
Six people were injured in two separate incidents in Rajkot, 225 kilometers from Ahmedabad, including a family of five visiting from the neighboring western state of Maharashtra to discuss a relative’s marriage prospects. They were rescued from a violent crowd by local police and escaped with only minor injuries.
In two assaults in Surat, 275 kilometers from Ahmedabad, five women were attacked by local villagers on suspicion of being child kidnappers. And a 45-year-old woman was assaulted after locals suspected that she had kidnapped the baby girl—in fact her daughter—with her.
“It was a mostly male crowd which took away her daughter as they suspected her to be the kidnapper,” a police officer told journalists. “Both of them were brought to the police station where it became clear that she was indeed the child’s mother, and had come to the city to attend a family function,” the officer added. “Do not get carried away by fake social media messages or rumors and assault anybody over suspicion,” Gujarat state police said in a statement. “Please inform the police immediately.”