New Delhi: In the latest instance of mob violence triggered by rumours and suspicions around the presence of ‘child-lifters’, one man was beaten to death and three others critically injured by a mob in Karnataka’s Bidar district on Friday (July 13).
The man who died was 30-year-old Google software engineer Mohammed Azam Ahmed of Malakpet, and those injured include Qatari national Salham Eidal Kubaisi and Noor Mohammed and Mohammed Salman from Barkas in Hyderabad, Indian Express reported.
According to The Hindu, the four men were travelling from Hyderabad to Handikera village in Aurad taluk, the place one of them was from. They stopped for snacks near Balkut Tanda, and reportedly offered chocolates that Kubaisi had brought from Qatar to schoolchildren there. When locals heard about this, they assumed that the men were trying to kidnap the children and beat them, even as they tried to explain themselves, the newspaper reported.
The men managed to escape in their car, The Hindu report says, but locals called their friends in the nearby village of Murki and asked them to stop the car. A mob mounted a blockade, stopped the car and pulled out the men. Azam was hit on the head with a stick and died on the spot.
Police rescued the other three men from the scene and took them to a hospital in Bidar. They have now been shifted to a hospital in Hyderabad, the newspaper reported.
An official from the Aurad police station told the Indian Express that three WhatsApp administrators who circulated photos and videos of the men, calling them child-lifters, have been arrested. “We have also arrested 30 people who were part of the mob,’’ the official told the newspaper.
According to The Hindu, senior police officials are planning a visit to the village in question to conduct a community meet to dispel rumours of child-lifting. “We know that villagers made the phone calls. The role of social media is also being investigated,” SP Devaraj told the newspaper.
A string of lynchings have taken place across the country in recent months based on rumours circulating on messaging apps that ‘outsiders’ are travelling in the region with the aim to kidnap children. The Narendra Modi government had asked WhatsApp to take action against the fake news circulating on the platform, and the Facebook-owned company had replied saying that it believes misinformation is a challenge “that requires government, civil society and technology companies to work together”. The company had then also listed a string of measures it would implement to try and check the circulation of misinformation and rumours.
While WhatsApp is being used as a medium to spread these rumours, several people, like Divij Joshi writing in The Wire, have argued that blaming the app “neglects the systemic policing crises in our states and risks providing greater justifications for broad state censorship”.