The police in India are going from village to village to warn people about messages spread on WhatsApp about a gang that has arrived from the north of the country and intends to kidnap children. Police claims the messages are, in fact, fake.
One of the messages shows two pictures of a man being taken by the police. It also says, “Please take care of your children. Don’t send them alone.”
Some other messages on WhatsApp show videos of children being kidnapped from the streets and ask locals to beat up anyone who looks like he is not from the area or cannot speak the regional language.
These messages have started to cause panic among the people of a district of southern India; locals have begun to go out in mobs and have started to attack people who they think are the kidnappers. These mobs and their attacks have already caused deaths of over six people since last month. The Indian police have arrested 16 people and another 12 are reportedly wanted over the issue. Recently, a man was hanged from a bridge, while a 63-year-old woman was killed for handing candies to children on her way to the temple.
Two more men were recently killed in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu where a mob of nine people attacked them. They were identified as Abijeet Nath, a digital artist, and Nilotpal Das, an audio engineer. The two men were traveling to a village in the north-eastern state of Assam and had stopped to ask for directions when people assumed they were the kidnappers and decided to beat them to death.
A gruesome and graphic video of the attack was uploaded to social media, showing the two men bleeding while begging for help and desperately trying to explain their identities.
Yesterday, students and activists came out of the streets of the city of Guwahati to oppose the killings.
The Indian police have claimed that it is hard to debunk rumors that spread on social media applications like WhatsApp. Mukesh Agarwal, a senior police official, told BBC, “When rumors start circulating on social media, it takes some time to stop them completely.”
The police chiefs of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have held press conferences in an attempt to do this and are urging people to stop believing the fake news and killing people over it. S.P. Pakalavan, police superintendent in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu state, has made it his mission to dismiss the rumors. He has ordered more than 50 police stations to travel by whatever means necessary and to announce from all speakers the lack of authenticity of these WhatsApp messages.
He has claimed to have covered about seven hundred villages in just four days. He said, “That was the only way to pacify the panic-stricken residents.”
It is not clear how and when the rumors started but the Indian government has made it its vital job to provide awareness to panic-struck locals.