Rumours that “outsiders” were trying to abduct children led to the lynching of four youths from Madhya Pradesh in Orissa’s Koraput district, villagers said.
The four men, who had gone to a village in Jeypore to allegedly collect a consignment of cannabis, were lynched by hundreds of villagers on April 8 after they were mistaken for kidnappers.
Though six police officials reached Nuaput village before the four men were lynched, they found themselves outnumbered and were unable to stop the crime.
In Nuaput, where villagers first gave chase to the four men, the topic of children being kidnapped had become dinner table conversation of late. This, despite no police complaint in this regard being lodged so far.
Balma Bisoyi first heard from her neighbour that some girls from her village had gone to work in a cashew processing factory nearby, where they were told that boys and girls from Malkangiri were being kidnapped and their eyes and kidneys were being taken out.
“Like everyone else, I was scared. Who wouldn’t be?” said Bisoyi. Then, on April 2, a rumour went around in Balia village that an autorickshaw driver had tried to abduct two children, Shivani Sahu and Ramesh Sanra. “From that day, men in our village and nearby areas started keeping vigil at night. Who would want to see their children being taken away?” said Ramesh’s mother Binati.
Tiki Bisoyi, an undergraduate from Nuaput, was one of the many people who believed the rumours. “For the past few months, we had been hearing news of children in Koraput and Malkangiri being abducted and their vital organs being removed,” she said.
It was amid this sense of panic that the four youths – Ajay Kumar Yadav, Ananda Kumar Swam, Rakesh Jaiswal and Ramu Chamarkar – from Madhya Pradesh’s Anuppur village arrived in a white Safari at Nuaput village, allegedly to collect around 1.3 quintals of cannabis from an associate.
As the four youths were spotted entering the village around 11 pm, buzz started — through mobile phones and word of mouth — that the “kidnappers” had arrived. The villagers, many of them armed with spears, axes, crowbars and other blunt weapons, gathered around. “We were in the midst of a month-long festival and everyone was drunk,” said Saradhamani Kheer, an elderly woman from the village.
The four Hindi-speaking youths, escorted by two locals on a motorbike, drove the car to the end of the village and waited, allegedly to pick up the cannabis from a middleman. That’s when the two youths escorting them were stopped by villagers and roughed up.
While one managed to give the mob a slip, Bhagaban Nayak from Jeypore town was tied to an electric pole and beaten up. “I told them I had not come to kidnap any children but to escort the youths for a cannabis deal, but they did not listen,” said Nayak, who is currently in Jeypore sub-divisional hospital.
At 11.30 pm, six policemen from Jeypore sadar police station arrived at Nuaput but found it difficult to negotiate with the armed mob. “We were just six people, while 200 people from Nuaput and neighbouring villages were baying for the blood of the captured youth, saying they would not let him leave alive. We managed to put the escort in our police jeep, but the mob attacked the vehicle with spears. We saved the youth by pushing him under the driver’s seat,” said a policeman who was at the spot.
The mob then torched the bike belonging to the two escorts. As the mob surrounded the police vehicle, the four youths sensed trouble and ran to the paddy fields, with villagers giving chase.
A tribal girl from the neighbouring Palkaput village, who did not wish to be named, recalled her father – who is now in police custody – getting a phone call at night. “He picked up an axe and ran towards the fields, saying the kidnappers had come,” she said, while her mother maintained “he was at home all night”.
As the four youths tried to escape, they were slowed down by the slush as the crops had been freshly irrigated. They subsequently reached a dry riverbed, only to run into 100-plus villagers from Balia who were waiting for them on the bridge.
Narasingha Nayak, who has a small eatery nearby, rushed to the spot after hearing about the incident. “When I arrived at 2 am, the bodies of the youths were lying on the road. There were 10-20 armed persons holding battery-powered torches. They seemed angry; I was too scared to ask anyone anything,” he said.
Meanwhile, villagers prevented police from reaching the spot. By 3.30 am, when police finally arrived on the bridge, they found four bodies lying in a pool of blood, their legs twisted out of shape.
All those who died had severe head injuries,” said a doctor who conducted the inquest.
Police claim most people who lynched the youths were from Balia. In the village, most of the men have run away, while some have been picked up by the police. The women, meanwhile, claim the men “were home all night” and did nothing wrong. They also continue to speak of the kidnapping rumours. Sarat Harijan, whose husband has been arrested, said, “When the rumours started, we used to sleep at night clutching our children close to us. How can we allow the eyes of our children to be gouged out?”
Koraput SP Charan Singh Meena said “mob fury always defies logic”.
“And if they are drunk, it is a losing battle against the mob. Since the victims spoke only Hindi, which the locals could not understand, it added to their suspicion that they were the kidnappers,” he added.
Police have so far arrested 51 people on charges of murder, arson and attempt to murder. More arrests are likely. Police have also seized 1.3 quintals of cannabis from five persons and arrested them under the NDPS Act in connection with the case.
Jeypore sub-divisional police officer R K Senapati said, “The youths were new to the area… They were initially scheduled to get delivery of the cannabis at a desolate place so they don’t attract police attention. It was their misfortune.”
To avoid a repeat of the incident in the future, police now plan to send vehicles around the area to tell people not to believe such rumours. “We will tell them that if they find suspicious people in the area, they should hand them over to the police,” Meena said.