BANDA (UP): Reports on WhatsApp about child lifting that are linked to organ trade, have created panic in Banda district of the state.
Parents have stopped sending children to school and keep them inside the house.
'Khabar Lahariya' a local daily carried out a multi-district investigation and found that strangers, elders and mentally challenged persons were being targeted by mobs who believe them to be child lifters.
Alok Misra, deputy superintendent of police, Banda, said "there have been no real incidents of child lifting. Whenever there has been a rumour, we have investigated and found it to be false. We are repeatedly asking people not to pay attention to such rumours that usually emanate from the social media."
UP Director General of Police (DGP) O. P. Singh had to intervene through a public video and urge people not to resort to mob violence.
The district administration has also asked teachers in government schools to visit the homes of students who have stopped coming and convince their parents to send the children to school.
Uttar Pradesh, in the past few weeks, has reported over 100 incidents of mob violence over child lifting rumours.
Khurshid Alam is one of the parents who has stopped sending his children to school since last week.
"The reports are disturbing even though the police deny them. I have three children - two sons and one daughter - and would not like to take any risk. If the situation does not improve, I will arrange for a tutor so that the children can study at home," said Alam.
His neighbour, Ramesh Gupta, echoed similar sentiments and said that they would get a few families to pool in resources and ensure education for children in the safety of their homes.
Gupta insists that child lifting incidents are on the rise and adds that organs of the victims, including their eyes are being taken out.
However, he could not cite any particular incident in this regard.
"We are getting reports, videos and photographs of slain children on our WhatsApp. If the police are denying such incidents, why do they not trace the persons who have started these rumours?" he asked.
Bundelkhand is a region suffering due to agricultural distress and has been tense since the rumours started flying.
Last month, a mentally challenged person was beaten up by a mob that thought him to be a child lifter.
In the neighbouring Chitrakoot district, a mentally challenged woman was beaten and handed over to the police because the crowd believed she was a child lifter.
A senior district official in Banda explained the situation and said, "Every third person has a smartphone in the region even though literacy rates are low. People tend to believe messages and videos they receive and do not bother to verify facts.