A section of police officers in Jharkhand said that local journalists and social-media savvy people should have checked with the force before circulating messages on child lifters, while a scribe under the scanner said the cops were trying to shift the blame after two incidents of lynching. The panic triggered through the social media in East Singhbhum and Saraikela Kharsawan districts culminated in the lynching of seven persons, on the suspicion that they were child lifters, on May 18 and 19.
Asked whether action was taken to quell the rumours, DIG (Kolhan Range) Prabhat Kumar said: “It would not be proper to comment on the matter at this stage. We are in the midst of a detailed inquiry.” Kumar was transferred a few days ago but is staying back until the inquiry into the lynchings is done.
Efforts to contact Senior Superintendent of Police (East Singhbhum) Anoop T Matthews and other senior officers did not yield results. Sushil Agarwal, a journalist for a local publication who was questioned, said over the phone: “The messages were to make people aware. It nowhere asked them to take law into their hands. Moreover, I had forwarded a newspaper clipping which had published the news of the Jadugora area mentioning that a child-lifter was caught and thrashed. If we are being accused of spreading panic, then we have to realise that the particular newspaper is also read by thousands. Hence, the news was already in the public domain.” He added, “Even if the messages were found to be false, they (the police) should have issued a denial…. Now, when such big incidents have occurred, they are blaming us.”
The police have said that Sourav Kumar, who worked in a photocopy shop, first wrote a Facebook post asking the people of Jadugora to beware of “child-lifters”. Agarwal allegedly took that Facebook post and put it on WhatsApp news groups. The message then went to nearly 40 other news groups, leading to the spread of the rumour, the police have alleged. Officer-in-charge (Jadugora), Uttam Kumar Tiwari, said there was no report of any case of a missing or kidnapped child in the area in the last one year. “The reporter ought to have checked with the police whether the person was actually a child lifter, rather than drawing his own conclusions.”