BENGALURU: Yet another life was claimed over the weekend, in Bidar District of Karnataka, where an engineer from Hyderabad was killed and three others with him were critical injured when a mod of over 2,500 people attack them, on the suspicion of child – lifting. Over the past few weeks the instances of lynching based on Whatsapp rumours have seen a sharp rise, across India and also made headlines world over.

The victim, Mohammad Azam, 28 was working for the Google Centre at Gachibowli in Hyderabad, and had gone on a leisure trip with his friends and cousin for the weekend. He was accompanied by his friend Salham Eid Al Kubasi, a Qatari national in India for vacation, Mohammad Salman and cousin Noor Mohammad.

As they were driving by they stopped at a Hamlet; where they saw children returning from school. Salham, who often gave food and chocolates to children he came across, offered some to them. On seeing Salham and his friends giving chocolates to children, people of the hamlet grew suspicious and began questioning them. Sensing trouble they left the spot, avoiding any confrontation.

Once the victims had left; the residents of the hamlet, informed people of the nearby village, Murki, over the phone. On reaching Murki, their car was chased and stopped by the villagers, who then dragged the victims out and began beating them with sticks and stones.

Residents of the previous hamlet had made a video of the Azam and his friends giving chocolates to the children and forwarded it to the residents of Murki village, along with the message ‘Don’t allow these persons in (the) red car to escape. They are child kidnappers.’ Even though the four friends tried explaining to the mob gather that they were not child lifters and had only offered chocolates out of affection, the mob went ahead and attacked them.

While Azam died on the spot from the attack, the others were injured critically. The mob was later dispersed by the police who rushed to the spot.

Azam’s family only found out about the incident when his uncle called his phone late at night, wondering why he had not returned yet.

Azam’s family has since been in shock; his uncle Mir Ansar Ali, speaking to the New Indian Express said ‘everybody has to think what has happened to people that they want to kill others. What are they reading? This has become a jungle raj. People feel unsafe to step outside home to do jobs or other work.”

The police so far have arrested 25 people who were a part of the mob, based on evidence from the videos of the mob. The Police investigation has traced the WhatsApp message to Manoj Patil, a farmer from Handikera village in Aurad taluka. The police believe it was Patil’s message, who is the administrator of several Whatsapp groups, which caused the lynching. It was the message sent by Patil on WhatsApp groups in Murki and surrounding villages, which instigated the mob, according to Dilip Sagar, Circle Police Inspector (CPI) of Kamalnagar Circle.

Speaking to the media Inspector Sagar said ‘The mob was baying for blood and it was scary and unnerving for us too, as we feared for our lives. I begged and pleaded with the people to let them go. I explained they were not child-lifters but they were not in a mood to listen. They were in frenzy and just wanted to kill them. Our priority was to evacuate the victims and rush them to hospital, so we tried to pacify the mob. We managed to save the remaining three men from being killed.’’

Between May and July 2018, at least 20 people were killed in 14 separate incidents of lynching and mob violence in various parts of India. There has been an increase of 97 percent in instances of lynching since the Modi government came to power in 2014; 52 percent of them have been based on rumours, with most having taken places in states ruled by the BJP.

While PM Modi was quick to congratulate France on the victory in the FIFA World Cup 2018, he is yet to issue a statement condemning the growing number of instances of lynching in the country. BJP MLA from Aurad, Prabhu Chavan has come out in support of the mob claiming that Azam was not lynched but died in an accident. While visiting the area he said “The youth was not lynched but died of injuries he received when the car overturned. The four from Hyderabad were child-kidnappers and I am 100 per cent sure about it.”

Despite the arrests, tension continued to prevail in Murki village; with the police hunting for several youths who fled the village fearing arrest after the lynching.

The Karnataka government is yet to issue a official statement on the incident.