NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian police said on Monday (May 22) they had arrested nearly two dozen people on charges, including murder and rioting, after a wave of lynchings in an eastern state that left eight dead.
Mobs in the largely tribal Jharkhand state set upon victims with sticks and fists over two days of violence as rumours spread on social media that a gang was kidnapping children, police said.
The brutality of the murders - captured potently in one viral image showing a bloodied man on his hands and knees begging for his life - has sparked outrage and allegations of police negligence.
Jharkhand has been on edge since the lynchings, just the latest in recent months across India, where mobs have publicly murdered people for inter-faith marriages and alleged offences involving sacred cows.
Mr Prashant Anand, police superintendent in the state's main city of Jamshedpur, said locals in two neighbouring districts attacked "any outsider irrespective of his community" after baseless rumours spread on WhatsApp and social media.
"We have so far arrested 20 people, five for lynching and 15 others for rioting or clashing with the authorities," he told AFP.
Distraught relatives of the victims have clashed with the authorities since the attacks last week, demanding a speedy investigation into the murders.
The local authorities have launched a public awareness campaign, distributing flyers to dispel rumours about the child kidnapping racket.
The police have been criticised for not responding quickly to dispel the misinformation, or to assure villagers about the safety of their children as fear took hold.
Child trafficking is a major problem in India, particularly in rural areas. Victims are sold off to work in factories or as beggars and prostitutes.
India's indigenous tribes often suffer the worst rates of poverty, malnutrition, education and life expectancy.