Lucknow: It was evening on 28 August in Khempur village, Rampur district, Uttar Pradesh. Naam-e-Ali’s mobile rang and the caller informed him that his son, Hasan, had been thrashed by a mob in Dhanauri village on the suspicion of being a child-lifter.
Naam-e-Ali’s family was shocked and confused — how could the physically and mentally-challenged Hasan be a child-lifter? The patriarch summoned his older son Kaiser and reached the spot, where they found Hasan battling for life.
Kaiser told ThePrint that eyewitnesses shot a video while his brother was being beaten up mercilessly. “No one came forward to save him. Hasan kept crying. He did not even know why he was being thrashed,” he said.
In another case in Etah, people viciously assaulted a woman from Himachal Pradesh on the suspicion of child-lifting. The woman said she had gone to visit her sister in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, and was allegedly drugged and brought to Etah by a ‘baba’ (holy man). She desperately tried to run away, but a group of people caught her and assaulted her. Several eyewitnesses were engaged in filming the assault but nobody bothered to save her.
But such situations are no longer rare in UP. The state has witnessed numerous mobs brutally thrashing youth on the mere allegation of being child-lifters — most of them mentally-challenged or from the poorer sections of society. Three innocent persons have been killed in the last one month.
According to Praveen Kumar, UP’s IG Law and Order, 37 such FIRs have been registered in a month, leading to the arrests of 140 people.
Four days of mayhem
In Sultanpur, a woman was beaten to death on the suspicion of being a child-lifter.
In Amethi, one labourer was killed and eight others injured by a mob on similar suspicions.
In Ghaziabad’s Vijay Nagar, a women named Shamima Khatun who had gone to fix her daughter’s marriage was also labelled a child-lifter and beaten up.
In the Anandpuri region of Muzaffarnagar district, a mob thrashed a person from to Delhi.
In Banda’s Atarra too, an agitated mob thrashed four labourers.
In Ballia, a female beggar was surrounded and beaten up.
In Noida’s Bhuda Colony, a group of people battered a man on allegations of child lifting, which a police probe found to be untrue.
In Gorakhpur’s Shekhupurwa Moharipur, some villagers assaulted a mentally-challenged woman and then handed her over to the police, who are still investigating the case.
In Fatehpur, a team from the health department was taken hostage by a mob on the suspicion of being a band of child lifters. The agitators also attacked the police and pelted stones. Three police personnel were injured in the incident.
On the same day, another mob held Delhi Police personnel, dressed in plainclothes, hostage in Bareilly.
In Khiri, villagers surrounded the vehicle of a transport inspector, again on the suspicion of being a child-lifter.
In Sambhal, a mob brutally thrashed two brothers, Ram Avtar and Ram Bahadur, of which the former died. Police said the brothers were taking Ram Bahadur’s son for treatment in a city hospital when the mob caught them.
A video of this incident has surfaced on social media, where Ram Avtar is lying on the floor and pleading with the mob that the child is his nephew. But the mob didn’t stop.
In Aligarh, another mentally-challenged youth was left for dead. The police later admitted him to a hospital.
An old problem
Uttar Pradesh is no stranger to rumour-fuelled panic. In 2001-02, rumours about ‘munhnochwa’ (literally, face-snatcher) had caused such terror that people had stopped coming out of their houses at night.
A few years later, new rumours spread thick and fast about a ‘choti katwa’, who would chop women’s braids.
The child-snatching rumours seem to be following that very trend.
Police taking incidents seriously
The state’s Director General of Police, O.P. Singh, has ordered that those who spread such rumours and perpetrate violence must be slapped with provisions of the National Security Act. But even that hasn’t stopped rumour-mongering.
बच्चा चोरी के सम्बन्ध में भ्रामक सूचना/अफवाह पर विश्वास न करें, जिम्मेदार नागरिक की तरह #UPPolice की सहायता लें।
इस संबंध में @dgpup द्वारा जनता के नाम संदेश #UPPAgainstFakeNews pic.twitter.com/iq6Zwyir87
— UP POLICE (@Uppolice) August 28, 2019
IG Law and Order Praveen Kumar said the police are taking all these incidents quite seriously.
To stop the flow of rumours, the police are taking help from three lakh digital volunteers, who are associated with them through WhatsApp groups. They are also trying to track down those who upload fake images and videos that spark these child-lifting rumours.
Opposition questions Yogi govt
Ajay Kumar Lallu, the Congress Legislature Party leader in the UP assembly, has questioned the Yogi Adityanath government on its claims of “zero tolerance” towards crime, which he said was growing each day.
“Incidents of mob violence are growing due to constant rumour-mongering. These are being spread from social media to the streets. Who is spreading this false information? It should be thoroughly investigated,” he said.
Samajwadi Party MLC Sunil Singh Sajan also said law and order was deteriorating under the Yogi administration, but the government was saying and doing nothing to stop the decline.
How can these rumours be stopped?
Former UP DGP Anand Lal Banerjee said such rumour-mongering in this age of technology is a subject of grave concern.
“We need to understand the psychology and sociology behind such behaviour. Most of these incidents are taking place in small towns or villages. Three types of mob fuelled violence are being witnessed — thrashing someone by calling her a witch, assaults in the name of cow slaughter, and battering someone on the suspicion of being a child-lifter,” Banerjee said.
“Most of the victims in all three kinds of violent incidents are innocent. To stop this, we need to embolden our criminal justice system. Law and order can improve only with enhanced public co-operation. Weakening the rumour network should be the first priority.”
Former IG Sridhar Pathak added that the judicial system will also have to act fast so that people can trust the rule of law and not take it in their own hands.
“There is a need to strengthen the information network to stop such kind of violence. You might remember that last year too, about 30 people were killed on the suspicion of being child-lifters. At that time, a video made in Karachi, Pakistan, for the safeguarding of children was used to circulate rumours about a band of child-lifters,” Pathak said.
Meanwhile, D.R. Shahu, professor of sociology at Lucknow University, said the falling tolerance in society was to blame for this trend.
“We want everything instantly. Technology has also made this easier, but has also brought doubts into the minds of people, mostly those who are less educated and live in rural areas. This makes them jump to conclusions rather than investigating rumours before reacting. This is leading to mob violence,” Shahu said.