Four men were killed in mob attacks last week in Tripura, over rumours on social media that kidnappers were on the prowl, cutting organs out of children to sell them. More such attacks were reported from Maharashtra and Gujarat. As the BJP-led central government bears down on WhatsApp to take action, it has been revealed that the party's own minister in Tripura ended up "validating" deadly fake news by repeating it in the presence of grieving and angry villagers.
The rumours began when an 11-year-old boy, Purna Biswas, was found dead near his house in state capital Agartala on June 26. There was talk that his kidney had been cut out, and soon it made its way into a local newspaper. The police denied it, but that did not stop state education minister Ratan Lal Nath from repeating an unsubstantiated report.
"I am told by the locals that in the back of the dead body there are cut marks from where kidney has been removed. This is simply gruesome," said Mr Nath at the boy's home, surrounded by his family and a large number of villagers.
Among those killed was Sukanta Chakraborty, who was thrashed, stripped and clubbed until he died. The mob was convinced he was out to kidnap children for the organ trade. Sukanta Chakraborty was in fact an artist hired by the police to spread awareness and caution people against fake news. He was travelling to villages with a policeman, who failed to stop the mob attack.
The police finally put out a clarification to stop the rumours, saying: "There has been several reports in print /electronic media as well as social media that kidney of the dead body of 11 year old boy was found. Missing. Post mortem reports conducted has confirmed that kidney and liver has been found inside the dead body."
The minister, asked about his thoughtless statement, defended himself today and blamed the rival CPM for framing him.
"I went to spot as the situation was very volatile. I was voicing what the agitated crowd and the family told me," Ratan Lal Nath said.
Mr Nath, a long-time Congressman, joined BJP in December last year ahead of the state polls. He has been Congress' state president and also a leader of opposition in the assembly.