NEW DELHI: A woman was lynched in central India on rumours that she was part of a gang that kidnapped children, police said Monday, days after the highest court called for immediate steps to control deadly mob violence across the country.
At least 14 people were arrested in Madhya Pradesh state’s Singrauli district following the killing of the woman, who was about 25, senior police officer Riyaz Iqbal said.
Iqbal said residents informed police on Saturday that a woman’s body was lying in a forested area. Police recovered the body, which bore multiple injury marks, he said. An initial investigation showed that she had been taken Friday night by a mob which dragged her to a village community center while punching and kicking her and hitting her with sticks.
Iqbal said the woman was seen roaming around neighbouring villages a few days earlier amid wild rumours that members of child kidnapping gangs were active in the area.
The officer said the woman had not yet been identified. “She was not able to properly communicate with the mob and in all probability appears to have been mentally unsound,” he said.
India has a long history of mob violence, but in recent years, the internet and smartphones have aided the circulation of deadly rumours even to remote places.
At least 25 people have been lynched and dozens wounded in mob attacks in the last three months over rumours that they were part of child kidnapping gangs. The victims were outsiders, mostly targeted because they looked different or didn’t speak the local language.
Although Indian authorities have stated that there is no truth to the child-lifting rumours and the victims were innocent, the brutal attacks, often captured on cellphones and shared on social media, have spread across the country.
In addition, at least 20 people have been lynched and dozens wounded by Hindu extremists who call themselves cow protectors and are linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janta Party since the Hindu nationalist party won national elections in 2014.
Most of the attacks by the so-called cow vigilantes have targeted Muslims, who make up 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people. Hindus make up about 80 percent of the population. Cows are considered sacred by many Hindus, and slaughtering cows or eating beef is illegal or restricted across much of the country.
The victims were accused of either smuggling cows for slaughter or eating beef. Lower-caste Hindus who carry out undesirable tasks such as skinning dead cattle have also faced mob violence.