Child kidnap rumours spark five more mob attacks

Ahmedabad: Police urged people on Wednesday not to believe false rumours spread on WhatsApp after a woman was killed and a dozen hurt in the latest mob attacks to leave authorities looking powerless.
In the worst of the five assaults in the western state of Gujarat on Tuesday, a destitute woman, Shantadevi Nath, and three others were attacked by around 100 people in the main city Ahmedabad.
“Half a dozen people surrounded the women as they were about to board an auto-rickshaw and started questioning them. Soon the crowd swelled and pulled Shantadevi and her companions out of the rickshaw and started thrashing them,” police official JA Rathwa said.
“People in the crowd rained punches and kicked the four women. Some even hit them with sticks and pulled them by their hair.”
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 which sparked that incident, alleging that 300 people had descended on Gujarat looking to abduct and sell children, appears to have triggered four other mob attacks there the same day.
Six people were injured in two separate incidents in Rajkot, 225 kilometres from Ahmedabad, including a family of five visiting to discuss a relative’s marriage prospects.
In two assaults in Surat, 275 kilometres from Ahmedabad, five women were attacked by local villagers while a 45-year-old woman was assaulted after locals suspected she had kidnapped her toddler. “It was a mostly male crowd which took away her daughter as they suspected her to be a 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,” the officer added.
Twenty-two people are believed to have perished in the past year, media reports say, because of the same or similar WhatsApp rumours in at least five states.
The Gujarat incidents prompted police to issue a press release, urging people not to “get carried away by fake social media messages”.
The rash of attacks has left the authorities scrambling to mount an effective response in a country where the use of smartphones and WhatsApp, the messaging service, is exploding, including in remote areas.
In Tamil Nadu local authorities used loudspeakers in May to warn people about false rumours.
In Uttar Pradesh police have taken to WhatsApp themselves to disseminate short video messages.
Nikhil Pahwa, the editor of news and analysis website Medianama, said the authorities must raise their game, including becoming savvier about tracking social media and responding quickly to false rumours. — AFP