Vehicle torched, 15 assaulted as child abduction rumours create panic in Odisha

Over 15 people were assaulted by mobs on the lookout for alleged child abductors in separate incidents across the state over the last three days. Police believe rumours of child abduction spread through social media platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp are responsible for a large number of these attacks.

A large group of villagers assaulted two people and set a vehicle afire in Odisha’s Koraput district on Monday evening, barely a day after director general of police (DGP) RP Sharma exhorted the people to not be swayed by unverified reports on the social media. Police said residents of Pukali village pursued the Tata Sumo, which they believed was being used to whisk children away, and thrashed two of its three occupants. An inspector from the Potangi police station was also assaulted when he tried to restrain the mob.

Another incident of the kind was reported from Aska block in Ganjam, where a mob assaulted two people on suspicions of child abduction earlier that morning. A woman was also assaulted the same day at Balang Square on the Soro-Anantapur road over similar fears. A small sack being carried by the woman reportedly evoked the villagers’ suspicions.

A beggar in Khaira block of Balasore also met a similar fate at the hands of local residents that day.

On Sunday morning, a 25-year-old man was beaten up by a mob at Kusadhipa village in Ganjam district after local residents accused him of being a child abductor. The victim, identified as Rajesh Swain, is being treated for serious injuries at a local hospital. In a similar incident the same day, a skill development trainer in Nayagarh’s Basantapur village was speaking to a group of children when local residents dragged him to a public place and thrashed him.

Saturday witnessed as many as seven youngsters from Tamil Nadu being assaulted by residents of Berhampur town on child abduction suspicions. Police said the locals became suspicious when they could not answer their queries in Odia.

DGP Sharma had earlier advised the people to not believe every unverified report they come across on Whatsapp or Facebook. “There are no such gangs, and no cases of child theft have been reported anywhere. These are pure rumours. If you suspect anybody, inform the police instead of resorting to vigilantism,” he said.

In April 2015, four youngsters from Madhya Pradesh were lynched by residents of Koraput village on the mistaken belief that they were child abductors.