Two men, returning from a picnic spot, were pulled out of their car and lynched by villagers who suspected them to be child-lifters in Assam's Karbi Anglong district, in a gruesome incident of mob fury which police blamed on panic created by social media posts.
Nilotpal Das, 29, a sound engineer based in Mumbai, and his friend Abhijeet Nath, 30, a businessman, had gone to the picnic spot Kangthilangso on Friday night to capture the sounds of nature and were on their way back when they were stopped by some villagers at Panjuri and thrashed, despite the duo pleading that they were Assamese and not outsiders, police said.
As many as 16 people have been arrested in connection with the case so far, while a senior police officer has been given charge to keep a vigil on rumours in social media, the director general of police said on Sunday.
In a video of the incident circulated on social media, the two men can be heard begging for their lives and trying to explain to the livid crowd that they were innocent but to no avail.
After the police reached the spot, the two seriously injured men were rushed to a hospital but they died on the way.
Assam Chief Minster Sarbananda Sonowal directed the Director General of Police Kuladhar Saikia to take prompt action against all the culprits .
"The killing of the two youths is very unfortunate and I have directed the DGP to ensure that the culprits are arrested at the earliest," the chief minister said.
Senior police officers, led by Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Mukesh Agarwal, rushed to the spot. The DGP told reporters that the incident was 'very unfortunate and we have taken the matter very seriously. The culprits will brought to book at the earliest'.
Saikia said for the past few days, posts on child lifters have been shared on social media which created panic among the people.
At a press conference, Saikia said among those arrested, included the man who allegedly fanned the rumour on social media that child lifters have entered Assam.
"We request people not to be misled by such posts. All such posts must be reported to the nearest police station and we asked all Superintendents of Police to take immediate action so that such posts do not go viral," he said.
Agarwal said that five persons have been arrested so far and their interrogation was on to nab the other culprits .
While Agarwal is monitoring the investigation, Additional DGP Harmeet Singh has been given the charge to keep vigil on rumours on the social media, the DGP said.
The DGP appealed to the people not to get swayed by rumours on social media and immediately inform the police if they came across any such post.
The police has released some telephone numbers for the people to contact them in this regard. They can also inform the nearest police station or the superintendent of police or the police headquarter in Guwahati about it, he said.
The cyberspace is very wide and requires more people to monitor it and Chief Secretary T Y Das has given a nod to bring in more people to monitor social media, the DGP said.
The chief secretary was also present at the press conference.
Asked whether forces from outside the state are spreading rumours in the run up to the publication of the second draft of the National Register of Citizens slated on June 30, Saikia said it was not possible to say anything at this stage, but the investigation would cover all angles.
He said security in vulnerable areas of the state has been intensified and special patrolling was being conducted, particularly in the weekly Sunday markets.
At a review meeting on Sunday, the chief minister said those involved in the killing of the two young men should be brought to book immediately and no leniency should be shown in dealing with the case.
The DGP and the chief secretary were present at the meeting, in which Sonowal was informed of the progress made in the investigation of the killing of Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath, an official release said.
The leader of the opposition in the state assembly, Debabrata Saikia, condemned the lynching and called it yet another instance of the state government's 'utter failure' to maintain law and order. He also demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident.