Two persons, including a journalist with a local news channel, were arrested for allegedly spreading messages that triggered child-lifting rumours, leading to the lynching of seven persons in two incidents at Jharkhand’s Bagbera and Rajnagar on May 18 and 19. The journalist was granted bail on Thursday.
The police said they were looking for one more person, Sushil Agarwal, in connection with the case. Police said Sourav Kumar and Shankar Gupta were arrested Wednesday on charges of spreading the message and creating panic in several villages of Jadugora, Haldipokhar, Bagbera and Ghatshila areas.
Police said Gupta worked for a local cable news network and had only forwarded the post. “He has been granted bail,” said a police officer. According to the police, it was Kumar who put out a Facebook post on May 11, claiming that child-lifters have been spotted in Jadugora in the past couple of days. Details about the “child-lifters” — the kind of clothes they wore, the languages they spoke and the kind of articles (like injections) they carried — were mentioned in the post. Police said the message mentioned a couple of incidents in which “child-lifters were supposed to have been spotted and beaten up by people” in different areas of Jadugora.
“The Facebook post was shared on WhatsApp by one Sushil Agarwal, who posted it in a news group called Zila News. Subsequently, it was shared in other news groups. Nothing has come up during the probe on the basis of which it can be confirmed that the incidents mentioned in the post took place,” said DSP Vimal Kumar, one of the members of the team which investigated the spread of the message. But police officers said the spread of the message triggered a panic and villagers started keeping vigil. Administrator of one of the news groups, News Raftaar, Binod Kesri, said the intention was never to spread panic.
“Also, many police officers are members of these groups. If a wrong message was spread, why wasn’t it immediately dismissed?” asked Kesri, adding that he has often appealed to members of various groups not to fall for rumours. Kesri said he provides news reports and footage to various TV channels. Since he is the administrator of various news groups, police have questioned him. East Singhbhum SSP Anoop T Matthews said: “Hundreds of people shared the message. We had to find where it originated. We found that it was generated by Kumar (on Facebook) and then circulated (on WhatsApp) by Agarwal.”
Matthews added that while Kumar works at a photocopy shop and was not actively associated with any media organisation, Gupta worked for a local media network. Asked why police did not act when the message was first posted, Matthews said, “Initially, not much significance was attached to it. But when the situation turned serious, we had to check where it all started.”
A total of 26 arrests have been made in connection with the lynchings. Also, 43 people have been arrested in connection with the violence that followed the lynchings.