A timely intervention by the army saved the lives of three saffron-robed priests who were attacked by a mob in Assam in a continuation of the spate of attacks over WhatsApp rumours. Three others were rescued by the police 29 km away, at Haflong, the district headquarters. The police said locals, in both cases, became suspicious because rumours of child-lifters’ presence in the area were doing the rounds on WhatsApp.
The priests from Uttar Pradesh — aged between 26 and 31 years — were at Mahur town of central Assam when they were attacked. They had just driven into Mahur from Harangajao town when their car was targetted. A mob stopped the vehicle, dragged them out and an argument started.
As the crowd grew, some locals, fearing a situation similar to Karbi Anglong, where two men were beaten to death last month on suspicion of being child lifters, called in the local army unit. The army personnel reached the spot within minutes and rescued one of the priests. The other two, who had managed to flee, were caught by locals about half-a-kilometre away and handed to the army.
The priests were taken to the army camp for questioning and then handed over to the police.
In Haflong too, locals tried to attack three “strangers”, suspecting them to be child-lifters. Police are yet to give the details.
Last month, two men were beaten to death in Karbi Anglong’s Dengaon, an area from where many have been killed over the years on suspicion of witchcraft. The killings took place after rumours spread on social media about the presence of child kidnappers in the area.
Over the last two months, around 20 killings have taken place across the country following social media-based rumours.
Last week, five men were beaten to death in Maharashtra’s Dhule. One of the WhatsApp videos doing the rounds in the area, spreading rumours about the murder of children for their organs, was using five-year-old photographs from Syria showing children who died from nerve gas.