Innocent people getting killed across the country over rumours of child-lifting
By Kushal Jeena
The rumours and hoaxes of child-kidnapping spread over the social networking sites are getting innocent people killed in different parts of India creating a serious law and order problems for police as they are unable to allay the fear among people living in the hinterland.
The police have been passing through tough time to reach on the spots where rumours of child-kidnappers roaming around result into angry mob beating and lynching innocent people. In n attempt to create awareness among the masses particularly in the rural areas that the messages about gangs of child-lifters moving around are nothing but rumours and hoaxes. The top officials in southern parts of the country have directed their subordinates to travel across the villages and convince people that messages going viral about gangs coming from northern parts of the country to kidnap children are hoaxes and fake.
Victims of lynching in Bidar karnataka
The messages that have gone viral for quite some time in the different parts of the country read like: “Please take care of your children. Don’t send them alone.” Some of such messages also carry photographs of a man being taken away by the police suspecting him of being a child-lifter. In most of the cases these messages have created panic among people and they thrash all those who roam around suspiciously. Many of such incidents of beating innocent people have resulted in the deaths, thus creating a law and order crisis for police.
India tops the countries that use WhatsApp and other massage services. It has about 200 million active users of WhatApps and other social messaging sites. In the Indian hinterland WhatsApp and Face book are often the primary way people access internet.
A senior police official in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu state has asked his men at the police stations under his jurisdiction to dispel the rumour. They have been travelling by motorbike and auto rickshaws fitted with speakers in villages to make villagers understand that messages of child-kidnapping are fabricated. “That was the only way to pacify the panic-stricken residents,” he said.
Two people were killed in the state on May 9 by mobs that believed they were child traffickers. A man was beaten and hanged from a bridge, and separately an old woman was lynched while travelling to a temple, reportedly stopped to hand candies to children. Police say there was no truth to the rumours and that WhatsApp has become a tool for spreading fake news in the country. The security officials say they are struggling to combat the spread of false information on the popular platform, especially messages that preach communal hatred or encourage violence.
The company that owns popular social networking site Face book says that policing false information is challenging unlike Face book WhattsApp messages are private and encrypted and the company does not read content unless a user reports it for being offensive. It said the company is trying to educate users to be more vigilant about potentially harmful messages.
“WhatsApp has made communications easier and more reliable for millions of Indians, including community organizations and local police. Though sadly, some people also use WhatsApp to spread harmful misinformation,” the company said.
“We’re stepping up our education efforts so that people know about our safety features and how to spot fake news and hoaxes.”
The police said at least five people were killed in southern part of the country over the past two weeks in connection with rumours on social networks of child kidnapping gangs, including some that smash skulls and devour brains. Another 10 people were beaten in related incidents. Similarly, In Karnataka messages and videos of mobs dragging a bloodied man on the street and roughing up two unidentified men before handing them over to the police have gone viral with an accompanying message that declared that 400 child traffickers have arrived in the state capital Bangalore.
“Be on high alert, 3 kids were kidnapped from my friend’s locality. There were 10 guys distributing biscuits laced with sedative to children. The local people have caught all of them,” read a message on a social network that consequently prompted people to press panic button creating a riot like situation.
The incidents that led to mob lynching innocent people are not in isolation in the southern parts of the country but also were reported from eastern state of Jharkhand where seven people were killed following the spread of a message that a gang of child-traffickers is active in the area. In Hyderabad mob attacked a group of transgender and one was killed and two seriously injured. The onlookers also attacked police vehicles. The police launched a campaign urging people not to believe in the messages that help create panic. Similar incidents were also reported in Maharashtra.
The political parties have been using social networks to promote their programmes and policies during election period. However, radical elements in some pro-Hindutava parties including ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party have been using these sites create to communal tension in a country that is divided between majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities. The right wing parties often derive their strength from a communally charged atmosphere that sharply divides people on communal ground.
“In a society increasingly polarized along caste and religious lines, it becomes easier to exploit that through WhatsApp [messages],” said a former police official from Maharashtra
Those who often share communal propaganda on WhatsApp are educated people, the middle class, which is described as backbone of Indian society is most worrying. The law-and-order machinery, along with cyber security bodies, has failed miserably to judge this danger. After a spate of incidents in Northern districts of Tamil Nadu in which members of the public have assaulted persons — even leading to death — on suspicion of their being child traffickers, police in these districts have pointed to the spread of rumours on social media as contributing to this violence. India lacks a proper and full proof law to check the misuse of social media and messaging sites.
The situation is currently heading towards an alarming point as many of messages going viral in the southern India claim north Indian gangs of child traffickers are involved in the south and similarly message in north Indian say these gangs have come from southern parts of the country. If this dangerous trend is not curbed immediately, it could lead to a widespread communal riot like situation ahead of next year general elections. A wave of panic is sweeping through many parts of the country with the police reporting several incidents of abduction attempts. The police have in many cases registered the cases primarily to convince the local people so as to avert any social tension. The victims and the witnesses in all such cases have stuck to their claims only till a detailed interrogation by the police.
The authorities have debunked viral videos and social media messages stoking violence as fake. However, they are still going viral and the police are failing to stem them as the country does not have a proper tool to traces the origin of such messages and block them. The statistics on child trafficking in the country are sombre and heart breaking. Two out of three children in India remain untraced in a period of three years.
The Child Rights and You (CRY) a non-governmental group that deals with the children in a report noted that the number of untraced children has witnessed a sharp increase in the country. The data, available with the Ministry of Home Affairs, shows that the number of untraced children in the country has percent between 2013 and 2015. The total number of untraced children in 2015 was 62,988 as against 34,244 in the year 2013.
“In India, according to estimates, 180 children go missing on an average every day. While the number of children who go missing remains alarming, the number of untraced children keep piling year on year,” noted a press release on the CRY report.
The number of untraced children in the country has increased by 84% between 2013 and 2015.
According to CRY, Maharashtra and Delhi have the maximum number of untraced children. According to a recent Right to Information reply from the Delhi Police, 22 children go missing in Delhi every day. As of 2015, 9414 children have not been found in Maharashtra and 9001 remain untraced in the national capital. The reality is similarly bleak in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, which have witnessed around 60 percent growth in the number of untraced children in the last three years.”While we know missing children are often led to be a part of organized crimes, illegal child labour and trafficking, there needs to be a differential structure of investigation to track these children, “said Komal Ganotra, a senior functionary at the CRY.