At least 31 people have been killed over the last one year in 10 different states by lynch mobs mobilised by rumours of child lifting spread over WhatsApp.
This is over and above the lynchings in the name of the cow. Tourists, beggars, migrants, men, women, civil servants — anyone can be mistaken for a child lifter by a mob primed for a killing and looking around for a victim.
It is time to take concerted action against those who spread killer rumours, by the Centre and the states working together. Preventive policing is key.
It takes some time for a rumour to gain enough traction for a mob to assemble and work itself into a frenzy. A police force that is trusted by the community it serves would get to know about such rumours within that time interval.
Clearly, such trust or extensive presence of the police is missing. Punitive action against WhatsApp groups that spread rumours should have a deterrent effect. Facebook, of which WhatsApp is a part, should share with the government at the Centre and with every state government a periodically updated list of all WhatsApp group administrators.
It is neither necessary nor desirable for every police station to know all the WhatsApp messages being shared in its administrative territory. But the Station House Officer (SHO) should have a current list of all WhatsApp admins in his area.
If false rumours spread in the locality, the SHO should know whom to ask. Every group admin should be made aware that she is accountable for rumours spread on her group, just as a newspaper editor is accountable for libel or hate speech in her journal.
The government must enforce zero tolerance for vigilante violence. Politically motivated tolerance of violence in the name of the cow promotes lynching on other pretexts as well.