(Written by Rashmi Rajput in Dhule, Abhishek Saha in Guwahati, Sweety Kumari in Kolkata, Sreenivas Janyala in Hyderabad, Johnson TA in Bengaluru, Arun Janardhanan in Chennai, Prashant Pandey in Ranchi and Dipankar Ghose in Raipur)
Of the 25 arrested in the latest case of lynching fuelled by rumours of child-lifting, in Maharashtra’s Dhule, only four have completed higher secondary education. Five others have studied till the primary level — the remaining 15 have never been to school. Over 15 were under the influence of alcohol when they took part in the attack on the five men who died. And, almost all the accused were daily-wagers, or unemployed young men.
What goes inside the head of an individual as he joins a mob to kill will always remain a mystery. But an investigation by The Indian Express into 27 similar lynchings across nine states has found stark parallels in the demographic composition of the accused and the location of the crime.
Who all make up the murderous mobs behind 27 lynching deaths?
The investigation shows that at least 24 of these killings occurred in villages deep in interior areas, where the accused were either school or college dropouts. In at least two cases, some of the accused were under the influence of alcohol.
In fact, the Dhule case — the killing of five members of the nomadic Gosavi community on July 1 — mirrors the common strands that have emerged.
The Indian Express visited Rainpada village, the site of the latest lynching, to find that it is a hamlet of around 1,000 residents with 672 registered voters, mostly members of the Kokani, Mavachi and Bhil tribal communities who earn their living by cultivating rice and bajra.
Most of the residents had never been to school, and a handful had completed primary education. Local officials estimated that the average annual income of each household was around Rs 1 lakh.
Of the accused, only Pravin Rathod (25), Mithun Rathod (23), Ajit Gangurde (19) and Kishore Pawar (19) had completed higher secondary education.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Bipin Bihari, Additional Director General of Police (law and order), Maharashtra Police, said: “When a mob comprises unemployed, illiterate and those battling poverty, it manifests itself in a mostly violent way. They have anger against the government, various establishments and the society at large, and this pent-up anger finds an outlet in a group that is faceless and anonymous.”
On Friday, The Indian Express reported on how rumours trumped facts in all the 27 killings — no case of kidnapping was recorded in police stations in any of these lynching spots in the three months leading up to the attacks.
Officers posted in the districts in the other eight states from where such lynchings were reported told The Indian Express that the spread of technology to areas where residents lack the tools to verify the information they access has led to a worrying situation.
According to the Internet in India 2017 report published by Internet and Mobile Association of India and Kantar IMRB this year, Internet penetration in urban India hit a high of 64.8 per cent in December 2017, covering an estimated 295 million of 455 million residents — penetration stood at 60.6 per cent in December 2016 and grew by 9.66 per cent in 2017.
However, Internet penetration in rural India had a higher growth rate of 14.11 per cent, with penetration rising from 18 per cent in December 2016 to 20.26 per cent in in December 2017. An estimated 186 million people out of around 918 million living in rural India access the Internet, the report said.
“In the interior areas, there is less presence of authentic mainstream media… and forwards on WhatsApp or Facebook is considered as truth. With the advent of easily available smartphones and social media, people can get — at a cheap price — access to photos and videos. Rumours go viral in seconds. The first response regarding rumours of child-lifting was that ‘this is on Facebook’ — as if what’s on Facebook is the definitive truth,” G V Siva Prasad, SP Karbi Anglong, Assam, said.
On June 8, Abhijit Nath (30) and Nilotpal Das (29), hailing from Guwahati, were lynched at around 7.30 pm by a mob of 500 in Karbi Anglong’s Panjuri Kachari village. Nath was a contractor in Guwahati while Das was a sound engineer in Goa.
“This trend is alarming for the entire country. With advancements in technology, we have to be prepared for crime emerging from social media,” Arnab Ghosh, SP Malda, West Bengal, said.
On June 13, an unidentified man in his mid-30s was lynched by a mob of 60 in Malda’s Bulbulchandi-Dubapara village.
“This district has a high floating population because of its proximity to the border. When residents find that outsiders are unable to respond clearly to their queries, they react with a mixture of fear and anger,” Ghosh said.
The Indian Express accessed police records in 13 districts where such lynchings were reported and found several similar strands:
Case 1: 3 killed in Nagadih village, East Singhbhum, May 18, 2017.
Accused: Chargesheet filed against 19, area is tribal-dominated. All accused, barring the mukhiya of Nagadih, are out on bail.
Case 2: 4 killed in Shobhapur village, Seraikela-Kharsawan, May 19, 2017.
Accused: Chargesheet filed against 20, area is tribal-dominated.
Y N Tiwari, officer-in-charge, Rajnagar station, on the Seraikela case: “This incident occurred hours after the earlier lynching in a nearby area. We found that it was a case of rumours of child-lifters leading to the assault. But it was later found that the victims (all four were from the Muslim community) had been engaged in illegal cattle trade.”
Case: 1 killed in Athimoor village, Tiruvannamalai, May 9, 2018.
Accused: 36 arrested, area is predominantly agrarian with a majority of farm workers.
A police officer at the state HQ: “An identification parade was conducted and the chargesheet is being prepared.”
Case: 1 killed in Cottonpet, Bengaluru, May 23, 2018.
Accused: 16 arrested, out on bail. Most have only school-level education, were either unemployed or working in temporary jobs, and hail from low-income families.
Bengaluru police commissioner T Suneel Kumar: “Investigation into the incident has established that the victim was innocent and not involved in kidnapping of children. In fact, no case of any gang that abducts children has been registered in Bengaluru.”
Case: 1 killed in Jiyapalli village, Nalgonda, May 23, 2018.
Accused: 7 arrested, all in custody. All from the Lambada ST community and are school or college drop-outs.
Vijay Krishna, SI, Bibinagar Police Station: “The incident happened outside a toddy shop. The accused were drunk and so enraged by the rumours that when the victim fell unconscious, they put him inside an autorickshaw and dumped him outside the panchayat office.’’
Case: 2 killed in Panjuri Kachari village, Karbi Anglong, June 8, 2018.
Accused: 47 arrests, all in custody. Panjuri Kachari houses around 90 families mostly belonging to the Kachari tribe.
G V Siva Prasad, SP Karbi Anglong: “The investigation is progressing at the fastest pace possible and we will not let any lapse happen. The chargesheet will be filed soon.”
Case 1: 1 killed in Bulbulchandi-Dubapara village, Malda, June 13, 2018.
Accused: 3 arrested, all from the tribal-dominated village, now in custody.
Arnab Ghosh, SP Malda: “The investigation reveals that the accused were locals, and the victim could not explain why he was there.”
Case 2: 1 killed in Mathuri village, East Midnapore, June 23, 2018.
Accused: 6 arrested. All from low-income locality of mostly school droputs, with many working as porters at the Mecheda railway station nearby.
V Solomon Nishakumar, SP East Midnapore : “The rumours about child-lifters in the area spread rapidly by word of mouth. The victim was suffering from depression and had been on treatment.”
Case: 1 killed in Mendrakala village, Surguja, June 22, 2018.
Accused: 9 arrested, all from the tribal-dominated village.
Ramkrishna Sahu, Additional SP, Surguja: “We arrested the nine based on video evidence and sent them to jail. The situation is getting better.”
Case 1: 1 killed in Sidhai Mohanpur village, West Tripura, June 28, 2018.
Accused: No arrests so far, incident occurred in a tribal-majority area.
Case 2: 1 killed in Kalachhara, South Tripura, June 28, 2018.
Accused: 7 arrested, mixed population of tribals and those hailing from West Bengal.
Case 3: 1 killed in Lakshmibil village, Sipahijala, June 28, 2018.
Accused: 4 arrested, area dominated by settlers from West Bengal.
Case: 5 killed in Rainpada village, Dhule, July 1, 2018.
Accused: 25 arrested, area dominated by tribals.
M Ramkumar, SP Dhule: “Many have fled. We are holding meetings with gram panchayat members so that they can convince the tribals to return. Our focus is to arrest the perpetrators and not cause any inconvenience to the villagers.”
Four more men were lynched in three other incidents in Maharashtra within a week last month – 2 in Aurangabad Rural, 1 in Aurangabad City and 1 in Gondia — all over similar rumours.
(With Sandeep Singh in New Delhi)