A transgender woman was killed and three others were seriously injured in Hyderabad, India, after they were attacked by a mob of people acting on rumors that the women were engaged in child trafficking.
V. Satyanarayana, a deputy commissioner of police in Hyderabad, told CNN that the women had been begging on the street in a nearby suburb when they were set upon by the mob around 11 p.m. He said that youths on the street began confronting the women, saying they had come to kidnap children.
About 20 people took part in the attack, while a crowd of up to 200 people egged them on, Satyanarayana said.
The accusations were originally spread via text messages on the phone app WhatsApp, with the accusations of child trafficking going viral as others, particularly residents of India’s Telugu-speaking states, latched onto the rumor. Twelve people have since been arrested for their part in spreading the rumors.
Satyanarayana said that the WhatsApp messages had included images of dead children, purportedly from India, but actually from the war in Syria or the alleged ethnic cleansing being carried out against the Rohingya people in Myanmar. There was no basis for the rumors of child trafficking, he added.
“These mischief mongers are intentionally circulating such messages to create panic in the minds of the public,” Satyanarayana said.
Similar rumors have been spread throughout the region via WhatsApp, leading to other attacks, including one against a man with mental health problems. Police found the victim stripped and beaten with sticks and pipes.
To stop other attacks from taking place, Hyderabad police have begun a campaign to educate the public and dispel rumors about child kidnappings, using both in-person workshops and social media.
Police have released public service announcements on their Facebook and Twitter accounts explaining how fake videos and photos are created, and encouraging the public to report and forward them so that the perpetrators can be prosecuted.
“Social media, especially WhatsApp, is something where knowingly or unknowingly sharing rumors, makes you a part of the spreading mechanism,” Anjani Kumar, the police commissioner of Hyderabad, said during a Sunday press conference. “So, if you receive any such sensitive material, you are advised to delete it. We request you to inform police authorities and we will take immediate action against those sending such media.”