Indian Police Arrest Members Of Lynching Mob

On April 20, Police in India arrested 110 people that were linked to a lynching in the Maharashtra’s Palghar district. On April 16, three Indian men were lynched to death when a vigilante mob thought the men were thieves.

Chikne Maharaj Kalpavrukshagir and Sushilgiri Maharaj were Sadhus, or Hindu godmen. The third victim in the lynching was Nilesh Telgade, their driver. The three were on their way to a funeral when they were stopped at a car checkpoint. When they were out of the car, a mob attacked them.

The mob believed the men were thieves, child abductors, or organ harvesters, due to rumors spread on social media app WhatsApp. WhatsApp related rumors have been the cause of 47 deaths since 2018. 

The lynching is multi-dimensional. It encompasses many issues including rumor-mongering, law and order, COVID-19, and the Hindu-Muslim divide.

Following these murders, more rumors were spread that some of the lynchers were Muslim. The Home Minister of Maharashtra, Anil Deshmukh, released all 110 names on Twitter to make a statement that none of the mob was Muslim.

The video of the lynching, which went viral a few days after the attack, is what is sparking more outrage. In the video, some policemen are shown and they seem to not be stopping the mob from attacking the three men. 

The attack comes as an unintentional consequence of India’s lockdown due to coronavirus. 

“The villagers were on edge due to the ongoing lockdown and unavailability of essential supplies. For the past few days, several rumors have been doing the rounds on social media about thieves and dacoits targeting villages on the highway. As a result, villagers have been patrolling the highway and stopping late night travelers on suspicion,” a Kasa police officer told The Hindu. 

The stress and anxiety brought on by the coronavirus only worsens the spread of fake news. In a 2019 study done by Microsoft, Indians were the most likely to encounter fake news and hoaxes at a rate of 64 percent – seven points higher than the global average. But with social distancing measures, people around the world are on social media more than ever.

WhatsApp is predicted to have 450 million users in India this year, as determined by the BBC. WhatsApp is a void filled with unfiltered, uncensored, private messages, usually from people you trust. The app’s developers have taken some steps to avoid rumors getting too ‘out-of-hand’ by limiting the amount of times a message can be forwarded. However, the screenshot function is still available.

The amalgamation of fake news, a global pandemic, and lack of proper law and order creates panic within a population. The population also resorts to taking measures into their own hands. Without properly educating the public how to detect fake news, rumors could become the country’s second pandemic.

Maria Kuiper