The father of the software engineer who died in an attack by a rumour-crazed mob in Karnataka's Bidar, said the government should take action to stop the spread of fake stories on social media. His 32-year-old son and his friends were mistaken for child-lifters after they tried to share their chocolates with some school children - all because of WhatsApp rumours that have already cost more than 20 lives across several states.
Mohammad Azam, a UK educated professional who was working with Accenture, died on the way to the hospital after the mob at a village in Bidar targetted him and friends on Friday. Out on a day's picnic, the men had fallen victim to the suspicions of the members of a local WhatsApp group, who called in reinforcements when they saw them interacting with the children.
They tried to leave the area, driving their car at high speed, which, the police say, made the crowd further suspicious. It didn't help that the car did not have a permanent registration number. Some people in the village informed people in the next village about this 'suspicious' movement, 'instructing' that they should not be allowed to get away.
The mob gave chase to their car. Residents of the neighbhouring village put up obstacles to stop the speeding car. The car then hit a stone, a biker and then fell into a culvert.
Villagers then pulled them out and beat Mohammad Azam and his friends with sticks, stones and whatever else they had at hand. The frenzied mob even turned on the police when they came, injuring several officers, the First Information Report filed in the case said.
Mohammad Azam had tried to show documents to villagers, pleading with them to believe that he was not a child lifter, his family said on Monday.
"The villagers were shown identity cards but they didn't listen," Mohammad Osman, the father of Mohammad Azam told reporters. "He was a software engineer and people beat him to death trusting a rumor. I request the government to take strict action against those who killed him," he said.
Mohammad Azam's anguished mother said the police had failed to protect her son. "Did our son cross the India-Pakistan border? The police did not use tear gas, they didn't fire warning shots either," he said.
The family still has trouble believing that the mob did not even give the men a hearing. "My brother was a software engineer, father of a 2-year-old. He was just a regular guy... How can they think they were kidnappers?" said his brother Akram.
So far, the police have arrested 18 people among whom there are some women. Manoj Patil, the administrator of the group which informed locals of the presence of outsiders and accused them of child-lifting, has also been arrested.
Karnataka home minister G Parameshwara said, "We are going to take it very seriously and see that this kind of incident does not happen again. We will sensitise all the police officers to handle such a situation and create awareness among the people and not do this kind of thing".
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