NEW DELHI -- Police in western India said Monday that they have arrested 23 people who took part in the weekend lynching of five men suspected of being members of a gang of child kidnappers, as deadly mob attacks fueled by social media rumors continues around the country. Police officer M. Ramkumar said five men were bludgeoned to death on Sunday in a remote, mountainous village in Maharashtra state.
Villagers pounced on the five when one of them tried to speak to a child at a weekly market, Rajkumar said. "The mob was merciless," he said.
Rajkumar said police formed five teams to nab the culprits, and had so far arrested 23 of 40 people accused of participating in the mob violence.
He said that for days the village had been abuzz with rumors spread through WhatsApp that a gang of child kidnappers was roaming there.
India has seen a string of mob attacks in the past few months ignited by messages circulated through social media that child-abduction gangs were active in villages and towns.
Although authorities clarified that there was no truth to the rumors, the deadly and brutal attacks, often captured on cellphones and shared on social media, have spread across Indian states.
At least 20 people have been killed in such brutal attacks since early May, and dozens more have been injured.
The rumors on social media of gangs of abductors have been spread amid mounting anger in India over a spate of gang-rape and murder of a young woman on a moving bus in New Delhi.since the 2012
Hundreds of people blocked streets and shut down businesses in parts of central India on Saturday to protest the rape of a 7-year-old girl. The protesters demanded the death penalty for two suspects arrested on suspicion of raping the girl and trying to slit her throat with a knife on Tuesday in Mandsaur, a town in Madhya Pradesh state, about 425 miles southwest of New Delhi.
The girl was allegedly abducted while waiting to be picked up from school by her parents. She was in a stable condition in hospital, police officer Manoj Kumar Singh said.
Crimes against women in India have been rising despite tougher laws since the landmark 2012 case.