The Big Story: Lynchistan

On Tuesday, a beggar woman was beaten to death by a mob in the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad. The victims was chased down by nearly 50 people and assaulted, with the mob screaming “you are a gang of child lifters”. Initial reports suggest that the lynching was driven by social media rumours doing the rounds over the past few days in the locality.

This is not a one-off case. On Friday, a similar rumour led to a lynching in Chhatisgarh’s Sarguja district. On June 2, a man was lynched in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district. On June 8, two men were pulled out of their car and lynched by a mob in Assam. On June 14, a similar murder was reported in West Bengal’s Malda district. Similar rumours have in fact spread across most of India, leading to assaults and murders across multiple states.

One part of this horrific stream of violence relates to specific local factors in each case which drove the mob to action. However, there are also a number of factors that tie these instances of ferocity into a nation-wide pattern. For one, the violence is fuelled by the existence of rumours spread over social media. Rumours are not new to society but the wide adoption of tools such as WhatsApp have made them more menacing than ever, allowing them to spread across vast areas in very little time. This pathology is not limited to child lifting rumours and has also been observed in lynchings related to cow slaughter hysteria, for example.

The other common factor across many of the crimes is xenophobia. While rumours provide the background, the existence of a person who does not seem to be from the community often provides the spark for violence. In Tamil Nadu, for example, targets of lynchings have often been north Indians. In West Bengal’s Malda, a Bihari man was assaulted by a mob on June 22 on the suspicion of trying to kidnap a child and the June 8 Assam lynching was also driven by baseless rumours of Bihari child lifters. In May, Muslim cattle traders were lynched on rumours of child theft.

Even as this red stain of violence spreads across India, the authorities have mostly reacted to happenings once the violence has occurred. This is, of course, how traditional policing has always worked in India, with the assumption that the punishment will act as a deterrent to society. However, this model is getting increasingly strained given the existence of social media and widespread mobile phone adoption that allows each and every person to broadcast rumours at a scale never seen before in history. In June, the Assam Police launched a helpline to crowdsource hate messages being spread on social media. Authorities across India need to think along these lines to fight this lynching epidemic. Policing will now increasingly have to formally take into account the spread of social media and work to combat its misuse.

The Big Scroll

  • Days of rumours around child lifters led to the lynchings in Assam village, reports Arunabh Saikia.
  • “We have killed the boy”: Assam lynching victims’ families and friends recall a night of horror, reports Abhishek Dey.
  • The lynching of two men in Assam shows the power of rumours across India, writes Ipsita Chakravarty.


  • Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath’s talk of Dalit reservations in Jamia and Aligarh Muslim University, misunderstands the nature of minority institutions, argues Faizan Mustafa in the Indian Express.
  • Reversing women’s decline in the Indian labour force: If more women did paid work, India’s national income would rise dramatically, argues Ajit Ranade in the Mint.
  • Turkish republicanism is posing an incoherent challenge to Erdoğan’s mix of nationalism and Sunni internationalism, explain Vijay Prashad and E Ahmet Tonak in the Hindu.
  • Dhaka’s transformation of the water services sector, that connects the urban poor to the piped network, has lessons for cities in India, writes Isher Judge Ahluwalia in the Indian Express.


Don’t Miss

Twelve Dalit families, including the sarpanch, have left Rudrawadi village in Maharashtra on June 7 citing persecution by members of the Maratha community. Mridula Chari reports on why they don’t want to go home:

“Outraged that the Matang community had dared to file a case against them, the other villagers began to boycott them. All services in the villages were reportedly denied to the community. They were not allowed to access shops or even buy fodder for their cattle. Maharashtra outlawed social boycotts in June 2017.

By May 21, a local human rights organisation, Samajik Nyay Andolan, got involved in the case. Only at this point were 12 people arrested, though they got bail in 15 to 20 days, said Deputy Superintendent of Police Shridhar Pawar. After people of the Matang community villagers held a rasta roko at Udgir town on May 24, the tehsildar of the block distributed three months’ worth of rations to them. Some had to conduct distress sales of their cattle, putting buffalos and goats on the market at half the going rate.

After the situation did not improve, the Matangs finally decided to leave on June 7, returning briefly on June 9 to gather their belongings.”