Abhijit Nath (right) was a businessman while Nilotpal Das (left) was a musician. Photo: Facebook
Abhijit Nath (right) was a businessman while Nilotpal Das (left) was a musician. Photo: Facebook

Two young men from Assam’s capital Guwahati were killed by a mob in a village on Sunday after rumors spread online that they had abducted a child. The mob killings led to the arrest of at least 15 people so far.

The two men, Abhijit Nath and Nilotpal Das, were traveling in a Black SUV when they were stopped in Panjuri Kachari by villagers in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district and asked to step out of the car as locals thought the two had kidnapped a child. The rumors had spread fast, reportedly through phone-calls, that two men had abducted a child and escaped in a black car.

The message was “there’s a kid in the car” and allegedly came from Kangthilangso, a nearby village where the victims had gone to visit a waterfall, the Indian Express reported.

Nath and Das were repeatedly beaten with sticks and kicked by angry villagers. Das tried to stop the attack by declaring he was an Assamese, however the mob took no notice. By the time police arrived after more than one hour, there was a mob of at least 250 and the two men were barely alive. They were taken to a hospital where they were pronounced dead. Nilotpal Das was a musician, while Abhijit Nath was a businessman.

Police arrested 15 people from Panjuri Kachari and four adjoining villages. Police also held a resident of Diphu town for “spreading fake news” about alleged child abductors on a Facebook page.

Those arrested were booked under IPC sections 302 and 324 for murder and voluntarily causing hurt respectively. The arrests came in the wake of protests, mainly by college students, demanding justice for the victims and condemning the slow response by police.

The protests, in the form of an hours-long road block, turned violent as police charged the protesters who were allegedly throwing stones and drinking alcohol in public.

A local woman who saw the lynching told the Indian Express that people who tried to calm the mob were chased away. The angry mob also called people from neighboring villages to join them.

Police also said the mob killing was partly due to increasing fears about child abductors that had been brewing on social media and messaging services over a week. However, no cases of child kidnapping were reported.

Akhil Gogoi, a peasant right’s activist from Assam, accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its apolitical arm Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of spreading fake news about child traffickers on social media so that people in the state would be distracted from the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, regional media reported.

Gogoi said he had submitted proof of his allegations to Assam Director General of Police Kuladhar Saikia. He had also registered a report at Chandmari police station calling for a probe into the mob-killing.

Arrests were ongoing, according to media reports, and several young men were reported to have fled the village. Panjuri Kachari is a small village made up mainly of people from the Karbi tribe.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal held a high-level meeting after the incident and told the Director General of Police to keep police vigilant and to maintain law and order.