Mob assault fuelled by child-lifting rumours rattles Gaya police

The men, all friends, were travelling in a car along with the nine-year-old son of one of them, which triggered rumours that spread within minutes through WhatsApp that they had kidnapped the child, police said.

IT’S BEEN a week but police in Gaya are still shaken by the assault of four men on suspicion of being child-lifters by residents from a string of villages in the region. The men, all friends, were travelling in a car along with the nine-year-old son of one of them, which triggered rumours that spread within minutes through WhatsApp that they had kidnapped the child, police said.

Such was the mob frenzy that Sunday, say police, that they refused to believe the child’s claim that he was with his father. Police officers say that now, even they are scared of stepping out in the dark after several colleagues were mistaken for child-lifters in other incidents.

“Such is the superstition in these areas that even we were mistaken for child-lifters. After sunset, we avoid venturing into these villages unless there is a serious law and order problem. Social media, especially WhatsApp, spreads child-lifting rumours fast, and illiteracy perpetrates this. We wonder how these rumours, which started in Patna in July, reached here so fast,” said Vikas Chandra Yadav, in-charge, Tankuppa police station.

The Indian Express spoke to police officers and eyewitnesses, and accessed case files, to piece together the sequence of events last Sunday. What emerged was a terrifying narrative — a frantic chase, an accident, a near lynching — that was further complicated by allegations that the four men were returning from an illegal hunting trip.

Around 3 pm that day, Mohammed Qaisar, Liyaqat Ali, Saif Ahmad and Waliur Rahman left their homes in the Civil Lines area of Gaya town to meet a common acquaintance at Saidpur village under Tankuppa police station, 20 km away. Rahman took his son along, too.

When they found that the acquaintance was not at home, they moved to the Maher jungles under the Gurpa forest division — near Nawagarh and Mokari villages about 5 km from the Fatehpur-Gaya state highway — and shot four birds from a protected dove species.

It was around 6.45 pm, and by then, the residents of these villages had come to know that “some strangers” had entered the forests. They tried to stop and question Qaisar and his friends, who did not stop and instead sped towards the state highway. Soon, more people from the other adjoining villages of Maher, Mohammedpur and Nawagarh started chasing their vehicle.

Around 7.30 pm, the car entered the Fatehpur-Gaya highway, but only after it was battered by stones and wooden sticks hurled by the mob shouting “baccha chor (child thieves)”. Still chased by the mob, many on motorbikes, the car lost balance, swerved to the side, hit a tree and a cement pole.

“There were about 150-175 people, some of them drunk. When the child cried for his father after seeing him being hit on the head, one person from the crowd said, “After lifting a child, they have hypnotised him to say ‘papa’,” said Janki Prasad, sarpanch, Aropur.

Meanwhile, a shopkeeper from Maher recognised Qaisar and called police, who arrived by 7.45 pm. “They struggled to save the five and took them to a Gaya hospital from where they left for Ranchi and Patna,” said Kanhai Paswan, mukhiya, Arodih.

Investigating Officer Dinesh Mandal said the doctors have not yet given permission for Qaisar to talk and walk. Mandal also said that 19 persons have been arrested. They include Sanjay Yadav, Arvind Manjhi and Ganesh Choudhary, all below 40 years and daily wagers with no criminal record.

The FIR based on Qaisar’s complaint does not mention the bird-hunting incident. But the Forest Department has lodged a separate FIR against the four under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and seized a rifle and two airguns. Officials said the four could be arrested after they recover.

In Patna, meanwhile, senior police officers say the latest rumours gathered momentum after the first such attack was reported from Rohtas in July. Since then, there have been three attacks in Patna, leading to the death of a man in one case.

Police say the rumours have since spread to areas in and around Gaya where two cases have been lodged, including the attack in Tankuppa. Another attack was reported from nearby Sherghato last week.

Early last month, Bihar DGP Gupteshwar Pandey called a meeting of senior officers, and took to Facebook Live, to allay such rumours — not a single allegation of child-lifting turned out to be true. “We have stressed on community policing. We are spreading awareness through loudspeakers and meetings with people,” Pandey said.

In Tankuppa, there is a message posted on the iron gate of the station, inside an MGNREGA office building without any fencing and toilets, asking the public to alert police about possible cases of mob lynching.

Source: The Indian Express

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