The seemingly altruistic act of distributing chocolates to children and displaying a newly bought car may have led to mobs chasing this group of friends through the remote stretches of Bidar, killing one of them.
Mohammad Azam Usmansab, 28, and his friends Mohammad Salman Alinor, Talha Ismail Qureshi, and Noor Mohammad Sadique had come from Hyderabad to Bidar on Friday. They were visiting their friend Mohammed Bashir Afroz in Handikera village of Aurad taluk.
After lunch, they stopped to take pictures near the Balkut Gokul tanda on their way back. Here, spotting some children who were walking from Handikera to the tanda, they offered them chocolates bought by Mr. Qureshi, who works in Qatar.
Unbeknown to them, a series of messages on WhatsApp had already reached the phones of those staying in the area. The fake news messages, similar to those that have resulted in the lynching of over 20 people across the country, warned residents of child-lifters who operated in groups to kidnap, sell or kill children.
According to the police, the residents noticed the men distributing chocolates and were convinced they were child-lifters as their brand new car had no registration plate. They gathered as a mob and the violent assault began. Mr. Afroz, who had accompanied the three men, attempted to explain to the mob that they were not kidnappers. But the frenzied mob was in no mood to listen.
In the melee, the group sped away in their car and Mr. Afroz ran to safety. However, the residents called their friends and acquaintances in Murki village, about 6 km away, and asked them to stop the car.
The police said a WhatsApp group called ‘Mother Murki’ was key in spreading the paranoia. Pictures and videos of the car and the group were sent across to all its members.
At Murki, villagers were armed and had already placed a fallen tree and a few boulders on the road to create a blockade. It was around 3.30 p.m. and the trap was set. Panicking at the sight of another impending assault, the men in the car attempted to speed through the blockade. However, the car fell into an empty stream by the roadside.
Some residents called the police from Kamal Nagar station, while others pulled the men out of the car and began the assault. Despite their pleas and cries, the youth were thrashed with stones and sticks. Four policemen arrived soon, but they were outnumbered. Even as they argued with the residents and even caned the mob to disperse them, the assault on the group continued.
By the time the madness had stopped, Mr. Usmansab was dead. His friends were injured and shifted to a hospital in Hyderabad. The policemen who arrived at the scene first too were injured.
A total of 34 people, including a person who shot footage of the assault and the admin of the WhatsApp group that galvanised the mob, were arrested on Saturday.
Amar Patil, who shot pictures and videos of the group and circulated it widely in the area, and Manoj Biradar, the admin of ‘Mother Murki’ group, were arrested, said Superintendent of Police D. Devaraja. Mr. Devaraja, Inspector-General of Police S. Murugan and a large contingent of police personnel are camping in the village. A case has been registered in the Kamal Nagar police station.
The police are appealing to people not to believe in rumours and take the law into their hands.
This is the second time a person in the State has been killed over rumours. In the last week of May, rumour-fuelled terror surfaced in Bengaluru and a 26-year-old Rajasthani man was killed by a mob in Cottonpete area. Of the mob of around 40 people, 14 were arrested while cases were filed against “unknown” persons who spread the rumour through WhatsApp. However, police have had no success in tracking the origin or spread of the messages through the encrypted instant messaging platform.