The Maharashtra Police have arrested the main accused in last Sunday’s lynching of five people in Dhule district, PTI reported on Thursday.

The police have arrested 24 people in the case so far.

On Sunday, a group of villagers in Rainpada killed five people suspecting them to be part of a gang of child lifters. The villagers allegedly attacked the group when one of them tried to speak to a girl. Rumours about the presence of a gang of child kidnappers had spread in the area in the previous few days, the olice said.

Dhule Superintendent of Police M Ramkumar said on Thursday that Maharu Pawar was arrested from Nandurbar district the previous day. The 22-year-old led the mob that attacked the five nomads, Ramkumar said, adding that Pawar had been hiding in Nandurbar since Sunday. The accused was seen in a video of the incident which went viral on social media.

The police said the victims were nomads who had come to seek alms at the weekly bazaar. They were identified as Bharat Shankar Bhosale, Dadarao Shankar Bhosale, Raju Bhosale and Bharat Malwe, all from Khave village in Solapur district, and Anagu Ingole from Manewadi village in the same district.

Series of lynchings

Over the past month, several incidents of mob violence following rumours on social media have been reported across the country, leading to assaults and murders. 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.

On June 22, a rumour led to a lynching in Chhattisgarh’s Sarguja district, and on June 26, a mob beat to death a 40-year-old woman in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad on the suspicion that she was a kidnapper. Three people, including a man hired by the Tripura government to spread awareness against rumours of child-lifting, were killed in the state at the end of June.